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