GAMEKEEPERS are reporting an 'upsurge' in curlew chicks thanks to the granting of local permissions to control raven numbers.

Land managers in Strathbraan are predicting an excellent year for endangered wading bird species, thanks to Scottish Natural Heritage's decision to issue licenses for the control of juvenile flocks of predatory ravens.

Breeding curlew populations have halved in the UK over the last 25 years and, across Europe, the estimated breeding success per pair is only 0.34 chicks per nest. The SNH management trial, which allowed up to 69 ravens to be taken this year, was controversial in some quarters, despite observations of chick predation by raven flocks.

But anecdotal reports on the ground suggest the additional protection the wader chicks are enjoying has already paid dividends, with some nests fledging four curlew chicks. Raven predation pressure seems to have been low this year, with fewer than half the birds permitted under the license having been taken.

“There is a definite upsurge this year in the waders,” said local gamekeeper Ronnie Kippen, whose ground falls within the licensed area. “We have barely seen a pair of curlew without chicks.

“Oystercatchers are roughly the same as we observe but curlew and lapwing have made a big shift. The hens were in good breeding condition but the chicks have been much better protected.

“The ravens have got clever, which we anticipated, plus they have not been able to build up enough in numbers to cause the damage this time. That was the main problem last year; ravens coming in and hammering the chicks on the floor of the glen.

“I think we would be very surprised, next year, if we did not see high numbers return from the wintering ground, given the sheer amount of chicks we have put away successfully this year.”

Ravens have benefitted from full legal protection which has seen their numbers double since 1994 while curlew have declined by 46% over roughly the same period, largely due to low breeding success.

A recent Scottish Government funded multi-party report, 'Understanding Predation', concluded that ravens were predators of ground nesting birds and that bold and urgent conservation measures were required to save red-listed waders.