Sir, – What an excellent letter we had from Leslie Robertson in the April 26 edition of The Scottish Farmer.

It mentioned the bleak future for all waders in Caithness and the need to reduce predation if they are to stand any chance of survival. Last week, Colin Strang-Steel agreed and confirmed in his letter that the position is similar in the Borders.

As upland beef and sheep producers from Galloway, we too have participated in environmental schemes and created the ideal conditions for waders to nest and rear their young. Sadly, like Leslie Robertson, we have seen ravens and carrion crows cruelly herry the wader nests and carry off the young.

We also have black-backed gulls, badgers, buzzards and even the beautiful red kite all queueing to feed on the young and the weak.

First, the new-born lambs (a hole pecked in the chest cavity with copious flow of blood showing the painful death), later, waders’ eggs and chicks and at this time of year, any ‘coupie yowe’, will be dead within the hour.

Some 10 or 15 years ago we had no ravens or badgers and lots of whaups and pee-wits. The buzzards and red kites take their share of the waders’ young – it is not, I hasten to add, the red kites fault, simply that theorists imagined that as carrion eaters they would scavenge their food from road-kill.

There is normally insufficient for the number of kites but in this Covid-19 created lockdown, there is almost no road-kill at all. We can forgive the kites, but there is no excuse for protecting the cruel ravens.

Yesterday, when looking the sheep in the afternoon (it is essential to check at each end of the day), I came on a ewe on it’s back with a crowd of ravens, corbies and a large gull attacking or waiting their chance.

The ewe was lucky, though the vermin had pecked round her eyes and taken an inch off her tongue and she was bleeding profusely, the birds had not punctured her abdomen, vulva or her udder. If she can eat she will survive.

Most often nowadays, a sheep will be dead within the hour – a cruel death and an unnecessary financial loss for sheep farmers all over the country.

I agree with Leslie Robertson’s suggestion that all environmental schemes should include training in the use of Larsen traps. Paid for by cutting out the naive from SNH staff might, however, be controversial? There is however an element of truth in the suggestion. Frederic Forsyth wrote in an article last week (albeit on Covid-19): 'The key error was that our Government turned for counsel to the public, not private sector. When did a department of bureaucrats last go bankrupt and lose their jobs?'

The upland farmers suffer financially from stock losses; we suffer too from the loss of our iconic moorland birds and those who make the rules get their salaries regardless. On one occasion when asking SNH permission to shoot problem birds, I was advised that I should scare them instead – ‘We have had excellent results using garden canes and red ribbons’.

There are some excellent SNH staff, but if we are to protect the future of the countryside their views must be balanced by those of practical rural people.

Curlews and lapwings, or corbies and ravens? – Any committee tasked with protecting the environment must choose and choose soon! I know which argument I prefer!

John Nelson


Castle Douglas.