CAMPAIGNERS have criticised plans to push forward with an “experimental” cull of hundreds of ravens.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have granted a group of farmers and gamekeepers a five-year licence to kill 300 birds in Perthshire.

But raptor experts and RSPB Scotland said they were “extremely concerned” about the impact on the local raven population.

And concerns have also been raised over granting permission in the vicinity of an area, Strathbraan, with “an appalling and well-documented track record of illegal persecution of raptors”.

Police recently launched an appeal after a white tailed sea eagle vanished in suspicious circumstances nearby.

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s head of wildlife, said he understood the concerns over wildlife crime – but insisted the granting of the licence was “wholly unconnected” to these fears.

He added: “This licence is about a pressing and complex conservation issue. It is a large-scale collaborative trial which will help improve our understanding of factors affecting key wader species, populations of which are declining at an alarming rate.

“We are satisfied this licence will not affect the population of ravens overall, and is over a five year period.”

SNH wants to study the reasons behind the plummeting number of wading birds, which ravens have been blamed for killing.

But academic research co-funded by SNH previously found ravens – which were persecuted by gamekeepers for centuries – should not be held responsible.

Duncan Orr-Ewing from RSPB Scotland said: “We are extremely concerned about the likely scale on impact of this research licence on the local raven population in the Strathbraan area of Perthshire.

“We are also very surprised that SNH has issued such a research licence in the vicinity of Strathbraan, which has an appalling and well documented track record of illegal persecution of raptors, noting also the very recent suspicious disappearance of a satellite tagged white-tailed eagle in this very same area.

“We, together with local raptor workers who have been monitoring ravens in the area for decades, could have helped SNH with this background detail to the licence application if we had been consulted.”