|Pic courtesy of SGA member Jason Clamp.|
The Scottish Gamekeeper Association has backed the use of ‘scarers’ on moors, claiming they are one of the only means to protect ground-nesting birds from the growing raven population.
In the past decade, gamekeepers have deployed them on moors at hatching time to move on flocks of legally protected ravens, whose numbers have grown by 40 per cent in 18 years.*
A study commissioned by SNH of Dotterel nests in East Drumochter showed ravens to be the main cause of nest failure, with 96 per cent of Ptarmigan nests in one year also predated by ravens.
The intelligent birds will feed on red and black grouse chicks and the young and eggs of red-listed Curlew and other endangered moorland waders.
Conservation charities have questioned the deployment of scarers on grouse moors, claiming they may disturb other protected nesting raptors.
That has been challenged robustly by gamekeepers who say there is no evidence.
Gamekeepers also feel that if no deterrents were available, it would make it increasingly difficult to protect rare chicks from mobbing ravens.
Whilst farmers can obtain licences from SNH to protect lambs, there is currently little mood to adapt approaches to protect ground-nesting birds from ravens by issuing removal licences.
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “The SGA consistently advocates that land managers need legal tools to be able to manage during times when there are conflicts between species.
“Because licences to protect ground nesting birds are rarely obtained, people have to look at all legal options if they want to protect any economic stock, which is their job, and the other moorland species that home there, such as Curlew, that are rapidly disappearing.
“Flocks of ravens can hoover up chicks and eggs. There may be enough grouse on a moor to be able to sustain such losses, but that is not the case any more with wading birds.
“If someone did want to apply for a licence to SNH to control them, they would have to prove that they have used all non-lethal alternatives first; alternatives such as these.
“In our view, land managers should be encouraged to deploy deterrents, such as gas guns and scarers, to move ravens on, rather than being criticised.”
Conservation charities say Hen Harriers could potentially be disturbed by gas guns, causing them to attempt to breed elsewhere.
However, gamekeepers believe this is mischief making.
Perthshire Gamekeeper and SGA Committee member, Ronnie Kippen, said: “Gas guns are not placed anywhere near Schedule 1 (protected) birds’ nests and there is no evidence of disruption of nesting Harriers or other raptors. Farmers have been using them for decades. If there was any problems, the raptors would be gone.
“If Ospreys can nest at T-in-the-Park, with all the noise of a music festival and Peregrines nest in town bell towers, it shows that raptors become de-sensitised to noise.
“Where I work, we use gas guns to protect black grouse and golden plover chicks from ravens.
“Even then, they only work until the ravens get used to them. We’ve tried everything, shots in the air, shots off rocks in isolated areas, scarers and varying the frequency of bangs on the gas gun but flocks of ravens still come in and inflict damage. It’s very difficult to deal with, so people need legal tools to work around rare wildlife.”
Reference: BTO Breeding Bird Survey 2014. Percentage change in breeding birds in Scotland between 1995 and 2013.
Wader Statistics from BTO Breeding Bird Survey 2014:
Decline in Curlew (55 per cent)
Decline in Lapwing (59 per cent)
Decline in Golden Plover (25 per cent)- All figures are for Scotland.
See the 2014 Survey, here: https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/bbs
*** SNH and DEFRA are currently working on cross-border guidance for the use of gas guns and scarers on farmland and game shoots.