RESISTANCE is growing against new government powers which have given farmers across Dorset powers to cull a legally protected bird.

A petition, launched by campaigner and blogger Jason Endfield, has reached more than 14,000 signatures against the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) plan to issue licences for farmers to cull ravens on their land in Dorset, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Berkshire and Wiltshire.

The iconic birds, that are kept protected in the Tower of London, could be culled across Dorset after claims they are slaughtering hundreds of lambs and piglets each year.

The new licences, which have been issued by Natural England will allow farmers to shoot the birds on their land.

Mr Endfield said: “Ravens are a protected species and are only just beginning to recover from long-term decline and still number less than 8,000 pairs in the whole of the United Kingdom.

“This is a misguided killing spree which will severely impact on the future survival of the species and the move will do nothing to improve the Government’s already tarnished reputation on environmental matters.”

The move has been welcomed by the UK’s biggest union representing farmers.

Claire Robinson, countryside adviser at the National Farmers Union (NFU), said: “There are rare occasions when farmers have to control birds such as ravens to protect livestock. We have seen some very localised but gruesome attacks by ravens on lambs and chickens. There are certainly more issues with ravens now than there were five years ago.”

A spokesman for Defra, said: “The number of birds that may be killed is strictly limited and won’t harm the improving conservation status of this species.

“Ravens are expanding in numbers and range in England which is a positive conservation story. Ravens can, however, attack lambs and adult sheep, and occasionally this can be serious, with deaths and serious injuries.

“If other measures fail to resolve a predation problem then Natural England will issue licences to farmers to control the Ravens attacking the sheep. These licences are judged on their merits on a case by case basis.”

Defra stressed the licences were only issued as a last resort after the landowner had exhausted all other options to protect their livestock.