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A Scotland for all – or a playground for the rich?

This opinion piece is about 4 years old

​The row about the culling of ravens highlights profound questions about influence, access and ownership in Scotland, argues Graham Martin

Ravens have always been with us.

Across their range and throughout human history the birds have been a powerful totem and a popular subject of mythology and folklore.

Sometimes they have been associated with ill-omen and evil, owing to their all black plumage and deep, sonorous croak, but the birds, the largest of the crow family, are actually highly intelligent. Their brains are the largest of the Class Aves, and they are increasingly recognised for their complex social lives, communication acuity and problem solving abilities.

It’s been speculated that one of the reasons for the raven’s baleful reputation is that they would follow armies into battle, waiting to pick over the corpses as carrion.

In this respect, humans in their bloodlust have always been bountiful benefactors.

Follow the money here and it leads down the barrel of a gun and into the pocket of a holidaying city banker

Now, however, they find themselves the subject of their own battle that could lead to the slaughter of hundreds of birds across a large area of Scotland – just as they are beginning to recover their former numbers after decades, in fact centuries, of persecution.

The row over the granting of a licence to a group of gamekeepers and farmers,bizarrely under the auspices of the conservation of waders, speaks to a problem in our society wider than animal conservation and the rights and wrongs of killing these intelligent, spectacular creatures.

It highlights once again the unresolved issue of land and resources – who owns it, who decides how it is used.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to put the pieces together and come to conclusions about why this is happening.

Shonky science aside – and it is shonky, wader declines are about farming practice and land management not raven predation – here we have a group of gamekeepers applying for a licence to cull birds known to occasionally target gamebird nests across an area which contains several large grouse shooting estates.

Almost gobsmackingly, these estates have been a crucible of wildlife crime – just last week a satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘disappeared’ over one of them.

Follow the money here and it leads down the barrel of a gun and into the pocket of a holidaying city banker.

The role of Scottish Natural Heritage in granting the licence must now be scrutinised. What is it for?

It is effectively a government agency – and the Scottish Government must look at how this decision was made.

Whatever its role, it should not be the enabler of private landowning and shooting interests.

As they’ve been for humans for millennia, the ravens in this battle are totemic – do we want a Scotland open to us all, where our natural resources, including our wildlife, are protected and held in common for us all? Or do we want a Scotland where huge tracts of land are given over to a charnel house mono-culture?

Is this what we want to be, a playground for the rich?

I’ll leave the last word to the raven from Edgar Allan Poe’s celebrated verse: nevermore.

Graham Martin is news editor of Third Force News



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Lok Yue
about 4 years ago
"wader declines are about farming practice and land management not raven predation"The British Trust for Ornithology disagrees: "...poor weather, increased disturbance (e.g. from dog walkers), and increased predator numbers could further implicate the population.."Im not saying mr. Martin is wrong and i do understand that blogs are effectively opinion pieces but author credibility is best served by examining things objectively. 'Shonky' is defined as 'dishonest, unreliable, or illegal, especially in a devious way'. This definition works fine with selective use of sources... as Mr. Martin has done. Shonky, by the way, is probably of Jewish origin. Jewish tailors in 19th century London sometimes turned out refurbished clothing. It had the advantage of being cheap and the results were sometimes referred to as 'shonky' suits. This has little to do with the subject under discussion but i thought it might be of peripheral interest
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William Douglas
about 4 years ago
A tagged white-tailed eagle ‘disappeared’ over a Scottish estate?That would be a country estate? Not Wester Hailes? Shock! Horror!But eagles live on country estates, so of course they die there too.This article needs a bit of balance, not something Graham Martin is good at.Thank you, Lok Yue, for the definition of 'shonky'!
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almost 4 years ago
Some vey important issues raised here which the current two commenters have not addressed in their attempts to distract from them. Yes, white-tailed eagles live in all sorts of places but they only seem to 'disappear' around shooting estates, a fact backed up by ample evidence.But the fundamental issues are why is so much of Scotland's private land given over to 'recreational killing' activities and why do only a minority of people (mostly but not exclusively rich) feel they want to spend a great deal of their money and leisure time dressing up in costumes and killing things?The number of people who are interested in wildlife and more benign outdoor activities vastly outnumber these people who want to kill so why isn't the Scottish government acting to ban these destructive land uses so that the countryside can be opened up to a level of tourism and economic activity that would be 10-20 times greater than that created by the recreational killing industry?The answer to that is deeply entrenched establishment interests which can only be winkled out by political action.