Raven rules relaxed in Scotland

Scottish farmers have been granted more powers to control raven numbers during the upcoming lambing and calfing period.

Following a determined campaign by NFU Scotland, the Scottish government has relaxed rules on the control of ravens - which are a threat to young livestock.

In a letter to Highlands and Islands MSP, Jamie McGrigor, the Scottish minister for the Environment, Michael Russell, outlined the following concessions:

* In areas where the problem is most prevalent, bag limits will be increased, following discussion with the local SNH office on appropriate numbers; this will reduce the need to apply for additional licences to raise the limit of the number of birds that can be taken at a later date.

* In circumstances where an individual has a recurring problem the local area office will consider issuing a two-year licence, so that action can be taken immediately a problem arises. These licences will state the number of birds which can be taken in each year.

* The Scottish Government is now prepared to consider issuing licences allowing the use of decoys where a case can be made that this is the only way to draw birds that are causing damage close enough to target an individual to be shot as part of an overall scaring regime.

Commenting on the rule change, NFU Scotland's head of rural policy, Jonnie Hall said: "We were relieved to receive this news, which should make a big difference to farmers who have struggled with raven predation on young livestock."

In order to put its case clearly to the Scottish government, the NFUS conducted a survey of members in

Argyll and the Islands, where the problem has been particularly acute.

"We were able to present useful evidence relating to the scale of the problem, the number of farms and farm animals affected, and the associated costs," said Hall.

"The suffering experienced by animals attacked by groups of ravens was particularly striking, as was the distress it caused to the farmers involved."

Following the survey, the NFUS held a number of meetings with Scottish Government officials, Scottish Natural Heritage and Members of the Scottish Parliament.

"We are grateful for the political support we received in convincing those who make the decisions that something had to be done," Hall added.

It is understood that the Scottish government's overall approach is still to develop effective scaring techniques, as a cull would not be compatible with the law. It is currently producing guidance on best practice scaring techniques, which will be made available to all farmers once published.

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