Scottish Natural Heritage has approved the culling of ravens to conserve wading birds © Arterra / UIG / Getty

A licence to kill hundreds of ravens over the next five years in the heart of the Scottish Highlands has provoked an international outcry. Recently granted by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) – the country’s wildlife and countryside agency – it permits a cull in the sparsely populated Strathbraan area.

This has drawn criticism from conservationists such as Chris Packham, who has called it a “slaughter of wildlife”, and by bird researchers. There has been an online petition against the cull, signed by more than 150,000 people. However, bodies representing landowners and gamekeepers have welcomed it.

In allowing the killing of up to 69 ravens each year, SNH spokesman Robbie Kernahan, said that it was for “a collaborative trial to explore whether a reduction in ravens will help curlews and other ground-nesting wading birds to recover from their current low numbers.” RSPB Scotland refutes this justification. In a letter to both the Chair of SNH and the Scottish Government, the group says that its objections are in part because the licence covers an area of grouse moors SNH has previously identified as one of the hotspots where eagles have disappeared in suspicious circumstances in recent years.

These included four satellite-tagged golden eagles and two white-tailed eagles, the most recent of which disappeared this spring in Glen Quaich, located in the raven cull zone.

In writing to SNH also opposing the cull, the Scottish Raptor Study Group, said that the stated concern for wader conservation “is simply a diversion to kill ravens in upland primarily used for driven grouse shooting.”

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Robbie Kernahan denies this, emphasising wader conservation as the reason for the licence. This has been applauded by Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, who has said that: “No number of keyboard petitions will save the curlew. Only action will.”

SNH has now asked its specialist committee to review the trial cull, but it has not revoked the licence.

Read the SNH statement.