RAVENS are running riot on farms in Caithness where, according to one farmer, they are attacking and killing lambs "for fun, not for food”.

Selena Swanson, who runs 40 pure Cheviots and 300 commercial ewes at Framside, near Thurso with her husband John, told The Scottish Farmer that they had been under attack from ravens for the last five years, and the situation was getting worse every year.

“The way the ravens act is unbelievable – they operate like a tag team," said Mrs Swanson. "One goes for the ewe, the lamb is left stranded and the other strikes the lamb.

“It looks like an enjoyment thing – there is a little bit of hunger but it is not all for hunger. If they were hungry they would just be eating the weak ones," she said.

“Last year the ravens killed 50 of our lambs. So far this year we have lost 20 to the birds and 15 to foxes, four this week alone. Our neighbours have a similar problem. Because the problem is so bad we are lambing inside and have different pens as the lambs begin to grow before eventually putting them outside."

Ms Swanson said that while they had managed to kill two foxes, the ravens continued to be a law unto themselves: "They are bolder than the fox. Being a protected species you have to get a special licence from Scottish Natural Heritage to shoot them.

“We don’t have a gun licence and have to get pest control shooters in. So far they have only managed to kill four birds. My husband John has applied for a licence so that we can do the job ourselves, but they are not easy targets even though we counted 18 sitting on the wall of one of our fields earlier this week," she reported.

“They don’t always peck the lamb to death," she added. "Their eyes and tongues are the main targets. I managed to save two lambs that had their tongues pecked slightly, and caught them in time before more damage could be done."

According to SNH, the number of licences granted to shoot ravens has increased from 61 back in 2013, to 162 last year. Wildlife operations manager Robbie Kernahan commented: “We acknowledge the damage that ravens can cause to livestock and the impact this has on farmers.

“We issue licences to control ravens to those who are suffering or likely to suffer serious damage to their livestock where there is no other satisfactory solution. These licences permit shooting of birds that are causing the damage, with the aim of removing problem birds and deterring other ravens.

“It is important to note that preventing serious damage caused by ravens isn’t just about licensing, but also about ensuring that there is good animal husbandry, and employing other scaring techniques to deter birds," he added.

“If someone is experiencing damage to livestock from ravens, then they should contact SNH’s licensing team. In areas where there are particularly serious problems, we’re working with farmers to look at different approaches to better help them to address issues.

“At the same time, we have commissioned research to get a better understanding of what is happening with raven populations in Scotland and how we can strike the right balance between conserving the wider populations of ravens and minimising the impact that they can have on other interests.”