‘Crows were carrying out cesareans on our pregnant ewes’

August 18, 2019

UNDER THREAT: Sheep, such as these from mid Dorset, if they were in pregnant, would have been at risk from predation from buzzards and corvids and their owners would have to incur losses on stock as shooting licences were suspended after a legal challenge by Wild Justice.” For those few weeks, it would have been illegal to shoot crows or other birds of prey predating on lambs. The licences were reinstated after protests from rural business organisations.

PREDATORY NATURE: Ravens, like this one, have been attacking the flock of Isle of Wight farmer Andrew Hodgson, particularly pregnant ewes and the suspension of the licences for targeting corvid species like the raven led to many lambs being lost. However Wild Justice says their crowd-funding exercise to change “pest control” legislation is justified as the legislation is “unlawful”. Picture by Stephen C Dickson.

JUDICIAL REVIEW: “We (Wild Justice) had not asked for a revocation of these licences but had requested that once they had expired on 31 December 2019 that they were replaced with a lawful alternative. Had Natural England simply complied with our request then the confusion of the last few weeks would not have occurred.” – BBC wildlife presenter, conservationist and Wild Justice patron Chris Packham.

EAGLE-EYED: Sixty White-tailed sea-eagles, similar to this one, are being introduced to the Isle of Wight after a vote taken by the island’s population. One of the launch sites is next to Andrew Hodgson’s 1,750-flock sheep farm and he claims he was only contacted by the NFU about it, not the Roy Dennis Foundation or Natural England. Hodgson claims he is not against the project, so long as compensation was available if the eagles preyed on his sheep and as he was a business owner, he was stakeholder and he had rights. Picture by Koshy Koshy.



A SHEEP farmer on the Isle of Wight claims he lost 200 lambs over the spring after a crowd-funding legal bid to stop crows and gulls being shot stopped their numbers being controlled.

Wild Justice was set up by BBC wildlife presenter Chris Packham, environmental campaigner and former conservation director to the RSPB Mark Avery and award-winning Ruth Tingay to set up to defend wildlife by raising funds to challenge existing laws.

‘On-line crowd funding challenged the law’

In one of the first acts the wildlife charity, it challenged the legality of the 2019 General Licences Act and it ended up in Natural England revoking licences for those who held them on its board meeting of 15 April this year and led to the suspension of the licences on 5 May. The action was funded by 1,100 private individuals.

Under the general licences farmers and gamekeepers had the right to kill 16 species of birds including corvids as crows, ravens and rooks, magpies, black-backed gulls, collared doves and pigeons so long as it was done humanely under animal welfare legislation if the species were targeting sheep, game birds or other vulnerable farmed animals.

On its website the charity claims it wasn’t seeking to change the law but merely highlight that the killing of certain species of birds developed and administered by a statutory wildlife agency was “unlawful now and had been for decades”.

Chris Packham said they wanted a judicial review of the general licence system and had not called for total revocation of it back in April.

‘We didn’t call for revocation of general licences’

“We (Wild Justice) had not asked for a revocation of these licences but had requested that once they had expired on 31 December 2019 that they were replaced with a lawful alternative. Had Natural England simply complied with our request then the confusion of the last few weeks would not have occurred.

“Species protection is a fundamental part of nature conservation and the fact that the Government department and its agency with responsibility for wildlife protection have been operating an unlawful bird-killing regime is jaw-droppingly negligent.”

‘Shepherd couldn’t tend to his flock’

Ross Simpson, a shepherd, with others, looks after 1,750 sheep on the hills of Cheverton Farm on the Isle of Wight and with the suspension of the General Licences, he was powerless as he saw multiple attacks on ewes giving birth to lambs from crows and ravens as the team couldn’t defend their flock and attend to several incidents at the same time. Due to the suspension of the general licences, Simpson couldn’t shoot any of the crows attacking the sheep providing for his livelihood.

Simpson says: “At this point is the aftermath of what the crows and ravens have been eating whilst my back has been turned. We can see that she (an ewe) has a lamb coming out and the crows are trying to peck out the lamb before its hit the ground.”

‘Crow pecked out lamb’s eyes and tongues whilst born

In the harrowing footage, when Simpson reaches the ewe – it clearly is in a distressed state. The lamb’s head is stuck out of the sheep’s uterus with its eye balls and tongue already pecked out. Had the lamb survived, Simpson, tells the documentary maker, it would not have survived as its tongue had been pecked out. A bit later, a second lamb is pulled out from the ewe’s uterus due to suffocation.

“This is happening on daily occurrence’

“That lamb was eaten alive in the process, its eyes and tongue gone. Even if it had survived, it wouldn’t be able to feed. This is what we are facing on a daily occurrence.

“Whilst the ewe has been on her side, they (the crows) have been pecking at her back or the lower abdomen that they go for because they know where the lambs are inside them. They are literally doing a cesarean while the ewes are still alive.

‘Lambs under 24 hours of age can’t defend themselves’

“We already have so many things against us. We have fox and badger predation, seagulls, the whole corvid family all visit us on a daily basis. I can understand losing dead lambs as carrion for free feed, I don’t have a problem with that but when we have lambs under 24 hours old and aren’t able to fend for themselves.

‘All I want to do is feed my family and the country’

“It is very disheartening – It is sickening really when the effort we all put in, not just us here but all the farmers across the country. All we are ultimately trying to do is feed our families and ultimately feed the country.”

On top of the predation from corvids and other mammals, the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Natural England are due to release 60 sea eagles on the populous island and one of the release sites is right next to the farm.

Andrew Hodgson, the owner, says he respected the outcome of the referendum on the island for the re-introduction of the raptors but he claims most people in favour, would not be directly be effected as they are not stakeholders like him, as they are not businesses.

‘If eagles are released next to my farm, it will impact my business’

He said: “At no time have I been directly been contacted by anyone other than the NFU. The reason I’m concerned about this project as I regard myself as a stakeholder as these eagles will be released right next to my property and it will impact my business

“My personal view was that I wasn’t against the project but I wanted some conditions put in place that should it cause a problem to our business, there would be compensation there. We have been reassured on many times that won’t be required because it won’t have a negative impact on our business.”

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Simon Constantine August 27, 2019 at 5:45 pm

If you are concerned about crows then I would say the release of 43 million pheasants each year far outweighs a few Sea Eagles? “since only one in three is shot, the others disappear into the mouths of generalist predators and scavengers such as Foxes, Brown Rats, crows and birds of prey. These species benefit, perhaps hugely, from what is essentially 33,000 tonnes of Pheasant meat being spread over the countryside.”


Andrew Thompson August 27, 2019 at 5:46 pm

Never mind the business aspect, what about the animal welfare aspect of the horrendous injuries lambs can suffer from these predators.
Like the release of mink, it’s just another example of ‘conservationists’ and idiot militant animal rights campaigners who don’t have a clue how the countryside actually works. They just read about it in their Sunday supplement in their city apartment.
To them it’s there for their entertainment to go mountain biking or rambling at the weekend, making a mess for others to sort out. To them it’s a theme park not an actual living, breathing, working ecology.


Lady from Farmers For Action forum August 27, 2019 at 5:47 pm

We humans are animals and also have a place in the natural World. Our place is to keep a balance among predators and to protect the vulnerable species. Many of those”brought up and living in cities have lost touch with the environment they claim to want to protect and consequently are not suited to the task. More species of wildlife is found in managed habitats than in those neglected, bramble strewn places commonly referred to as “the wild”.


Simon Constantine August 27, 2019 at 5:49 pm

I’d have a slightly different view than the farmer who posted above.
1. Those living in cities would tend to be the ultimate customer for the produce of farmers. They will also be contributing to the £3bn in subsidies and the additional £3bn in tax breaks that farmers and farmland receive. So by value its worth at least listening to them – the customers always right!
2. To ‘keep balance among predators and vulnerable species’ is the job of an ecosystem not an individual. That statement underlies a poor understanding of basic ecology and doesn’t acknowledge that humans have removed many apex predators that stabilise ecosystems in favour of ourselves and our view of land management.
3. If it were true that managed landscapes (I’m assuming she means farmland?) are more biodiverse why are we experiencing such steep drop offs of the natural world?

The Knepp estate is a glowing example of ‘bramble strewn’ wilderness that has boosted biodiversity and still provides food for the table all through a strategy of (almost!) total neglect. There is at least an argument to say less management could be an answer to restoring wildlife in the UK?



Liz Smith August 27, 2019 at 5:55 pm

Simply lamb indoors , these other species have a right to life , I dont eat flesh of any sort, why do you think man is so important everything else has to die , if I had sheep they would birth indoors out of harms way , these poor little creatures only there to be eaten so man is just as bad


Andrew Thompson August 27, 2019 at 5:56 pm

Let’s move animal farming back indoors, what a good idea!
You do realise it’s not just lambs that get attacked by these pests don’t you?
They also eat chicks, eggs and destroy the nests of many birds considerably more threatened than these menaces.
Their presence in such numbers is extremely bad for local ecology and the environment. The ignorance of the ranters to this is why I Lockheed it to the release of mink by animal rights activists, who have no clue about animals or the environment those animals live in


Sheila Anderson August 27, 2019 at 5:59 pm

Nobody is breeding crows. However they do breed sheep and their life expectancy is just a matter of months from cuddly lamb to chop on a plate.


Janine Redman August 27, 2019 at 6:06 pm

I much prefer to eat lamb than chicken .
My sheep are well looked after and the lambs have a wonderful life of freedom , however you could not keep all the ram lambs and wethers.
They have a good life and a quick death , then we eat the meat , and have the fleeces cured. It is the natural cycle of life .
And I love the foxes but still don’t want them dragging the lambs away from the ewes as they birth their second lamb. A
nd I love the corvids, except when they are predating the smaller birds,or eyeing up my small lambs.
I love the birds of prey until they start picking off the sparrows and goldfinches that are feeding in my garden.
Everything needs balance and where we have upset that balance some redress is needed by people who love the natural world and understand the system


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