Page last updated at 20:04 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 21:04 UK

Hungry ravens making live kills

Two ravens
Ravens are part of the crow species and feed on flesh - dead or alive

Farmers in Wales have been reporting an increase in the number of raven attacks on their livestock and say European farming regulations may be to blame.

The new rules state that dead animals need to be removed from the land, meaning the carcases, or carrion, the ravens feed on are no longer available.

The birds, which are protected, are instead attacking vulnerable and newborn animals, claim farmers.

The birds eat their eyes and tongues, either killing or injuring them.

Ravens, which are often associated with death, have acquired a mythical status over the centuries and six are kept at the Tower of London.

The species almost became extinct in the UK in the 19th century but after becoming protected their numbers have increased.

They are Britain's largest species of crow and they feed on flesh - dead and alive.

If the carrion crows and ravens don't have access to what they had historically then they will change their habits
Dai Davies, NFU Cymru

The reports of raven attacks in Wales follow similar reports in Scotland where the birds have attacked and killed newborn lambs and adult sheep on farms in the Highlands.

Gamekeepers there have called for the ban on shooting ravens to be lifted.

Dai Davies, president of the National Farmers' Union Wales Cymru (NFU Cymru), said historically this kind of behaviour in ravens was common especially during cold snaps in the spring.

"If carrion was frozen for several days and the only source of food in hill areas was live lambs then you would see instances of raven attacks," he said.

"It usually happened when ewes were slow lambing. If the lamb was slow emerging there was no way she could defend her lamb and the ravens would go for the tongue and eyes."

He put the latest attacks down to the "coldest and latest spring we have had for a while" and the European rules.

"If the carrion crows and ravens don't have access to what they had historically then they will change their habits," he said.

Often by the time you get there there's very little left except a few bones
Ed Bailey, sheep farmer

"It is something that farmers have accepted historically but I think they find difficulty in seeing the common sense in collecting carrion from the hills of Wales, especially in the remoter parts of Wales. Nature will always adapt."

Grahame Madge from the RSPB said a very small number of lambs in Wales were attacked by ravens and the bird remained protected because it had been persecuted in the past.

"If they do become the target of farmers their numbers would suffer very quickly," he said.

Ed Bailey, a sheep farmer in the Harlech Dome area of Gwynedd, told the Western Mail newspaper his young livestock had been attacked by ravens and carrion crows and he knew of "dozens" of local farmers experiencing the same problem.

"For instance, without any exaggeration, the night before last one ewe was in difficulty lambing. Before I got to it the end of the tongue had been taken and the eye had been took," he said.

"Fortunately it recovered. I'm surprised it has because quite often if the whole tongue is taken the lamb can't suckle. Often by the time you get there there's very little left except a few bones."

Ravens blamed for killing lambs
01 Apr 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Black ravens return to the roost
24 Jan 06 |  North East Wales
Injured raven enjoys tower life
01 Jun 03 |  North West Wales
Rowdy ravens are given gag order
24 Mar 05 |  Wiltshire

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