Sir, I have been reading the correspondence on predation levels with great interest. I farm in upper Banffshire, where the problem is no less severe.

Last year, we had two pairs of nesting lapwings, compared to 30 or 40 as recently as five years ago and a multiple of those numbers in previous decades. This year, we have only a single bird, so the lapwing is now functionally extinct on this farm.

We have farmed organically for 20 years, the vast majority of our grassland has been managed for nearly two decades under wader grazed grassland options in AECS and predecessor SRDP and CPS schemes. We have large areas of wetland, where we manage the rush pasture and we have created wader scrapes and both create and conserve areas of species rich grassland.

In addition, we employ a fulltime gamekeeper who, for most of the past 20 years, has been assisted by a trainee from the Highland College as well.

So, I do not think the problem is either management, or our farming practices. The principal cause of this catastrophe is only too obvious to those of us who look after this ground on a daily basis. It is the overwhelming level of predation.

We are surrounded on three sides by commercial conifer forests planted on open heather moorland in the tax-driven spree of the mid-1980s, none of which are managed for wildlife.

These unmanaged forests are havens for every type of avian and mammalian predator and the impact on our ground-nesting birds has been devastating. A few curlews and oystercatchers cling on, but the numbers are less as each year goes by.

We do what we can within the legal confines and control foxes and crows. However, with no effective predator management around us and burgeoning numbers of protected predator species getting way out of kilter, we are losing the battle.

The damage can be seen all to clearly in the bird count statistics on our two Special Protection Areas for the common gull. At the time of their designation in 1999, these sites held an estimated 16,000 pairs, thought to constitute 25% of the UK and 5% of the northern Palaearctic population.

Over the 30 years since designation, these populations have declined year on year and have now shrunk to barely 200 pairs across both sites. There is no question that constant mammalian and avian predation pressure have played a major role in this decline.

It is, indeed, tragic that the conservation dialogue has become so politicised. An unknowing public’s natural squeamishness over the hard facts of nature conservation is being ruthlessly exploited by a vociferous minority in a drive to demonise gamekeepers, the only people out there taking practical action at a landscape scale to protect many of our iconic and increasingly rare bird species.

Meanwhile, the government racks up ever higher penalties for wildlife crimes involving raptors (many of which are at record highs), but blindly ignores the real damage being done to our countryside.

As Langholm and countless other studies have shown, uncontrolled populations of predators ultimately self-destruct. Once the prey species is gone, predators too go into terminal decline. Ultimately, we are all losers.

Malcolm Hay