Yesterday (1 April 2013) saw the new Scottish snaring laws take effect, under The Snares (Identification Numbers and Tags) (Scotland) Order 2012.
Under this new legislation (see here for a copy), snare operators have to abide by the following rules:
- They must have attended and passed an approved training course.
- They must have been issued with a personal identification number by the police.
- A tag (plastic or metal) with this personal identification number must be attached to every single snare they set, along with the letter ‘F’, ‘R’ or ‘BH’ to indicate the target species they intend to catch (Fox, Rabbit or Brown Hare). Interestingly, there is not a code for Mountain Hare – suggesting that it is still illegal to snare this species, despite the verdict in the recent Lochindorb hare-snare trial (see here). See image for an example of one of the new tags, created by Perdix Wildlife Supplies, showing the target species (BH) and the personal ID number.
- They must keep a record of every snare set, including its location, date set, date disarmed, and every animal they have caught in that snare. These records must be maintained for two years and given over to a police officer if requested.
They must also abide by previous legislation and use only free-running snares with a stop on them (not self-locking snares which are banned), check every snare at least once every 24 hours, and on each inspection they must remove any trapped animal, whether alive or dead. Snares cannot be set where an animal is likely to become suspended (e.g. next to a fence) or close to water where a snared animal is likely to drown.
The game-shooting lobby are nervous about the new regulations. Although many of the industry’s organisations have welcomed the new restrictions, there is obvious concern that not everyone will comply and this could well lead to an outright ban on snaring when the effect of the new legislation is reviewed by the Scottish Parliament in December 2016.
They are right to be concerned. We already know that as of February this year, out of a shooting industry estimate of 5000 snare operators, only 1,376 have attended one of the approved snaring training courses (see here). That means 3,624 people have not been trained – if they’re still setting snares they will be doing so illegally.
Modern Gamekeeping, the monthly gamekeepers’ rag, has warned readers to ‘Beware spies in the hills’. They claim anti-fieldsport campaigners will be out “looking for trouble”. It’s not just the anti-fieldsports crowd who’ll be looking – it’ll be everyone who cares about the way our wildlife is ‘managed’ on sporting estates, whether they be anti-fieldsports or not. In the same article, the SGA’s Bert Burnett warns about the SSPCA, who he says are “very proactive in trying to find problems”. Surely he meant very proactive in trying to bring to justice wildlife criminals who cause unnecessary suffering to animals?
Of course, the new legislation will only be effective if it’s properly enforced. If you’re out and about and you find a snare that doesn’t meet the new requirements, you need to report it immediately. You can try the police, although whether you’ll get an appropriate response depends on who answers the phone. Some wildlife crime officers are very clued-up and will be aware of the legislation – others will not. A quote from the Modern Gamekeeping article gives a clear example of this problem:
“One keeper told Modern Gamekeeping he had rung his local police every few weeks since November [to apply for his personal identification number], only to speak to receptionists who didn’t know what a snare was. He said: “Some of the policemen I have spoken to have told me that snaring is banned altogether and others have told me it is an issue for the council to deal with. When I rang the council, the woman was utterly horrified at the idea. It really has been a total hash””.
This photo (below) shows a decomposing mountain hare found in a snare on a notorious Scottish grouse moor. It was reported to the police – no action was taken.
If you don’t want to rely upon the police to follow up on your report, please call the SSPCA (03000-999-999), especially if you find a live animal caught in a snare, whether it be a target species or not. Another excellent place to report your findings is OneKind’s Snarewatch website (here), which not only has a reporting facility but also is an excellent source of background information about snaring in Scotland. For snaring information in England, this website is very useful.
These new snaring regulations are of interest to us, not only for their intrinsic value but particularly because we believe they could be used to close an often-used legal loophole that has prevented the prosecution of many suspected raptor killers employed on large game-shooting estates.
The loophole we’re referring to concerns the inability of investigators to identify a potential individual suspect, especially on large estates, where gangs of gamekeepers all close ranks and deny having responsibility for an individual ‘beat’, where, for example, a poisoned raptor may have turned up. This scenario has happened time and time again and has prevented many a prosecution from taking place, because charges can only be brought if the individual responsible has been identified. Here’s how it often goes:
(i) A poisoned raptor is found on an estate, maybe close to a poisoned bait, maybe not.
(ii) The investigators turn up on the estate and conduct a search.
(iii) Traces of poison are found on game bags, on knives, in vehicles etc.
(iv) The investigators ask which gamekeeper is responsible for the specific area where the bird was found (i.e. who runs this ‘beat’?).
(v) All the gamekeepers on the estate claim they don’t have individual beats. They all cover the same ground, use the same game bags, knives, vehicles etc, and nobody knows anything about any poison.
(vi) The investigators have to leave empty handed and nobody is brought to justice for poisoning the bird.
So how can the new snaring regulations be of help? We think that the issue of a personal identification number is key. Unlike the number issued for crow cage traps, which is given to the ‘estate’ rather than to an individual, this snare number is issued to the actual individual person who operates the snare. The number has to be attached to each and every snare that that person sets. So, if a poisoned raptor (or any other evidence of criminality) turns up on a specific beat, investigators can search for snares that have been set in the vicinity to identify the individual gamekeeper who runs that beat.
Perhaps the estate owners are wise to this already, and perhaps they’ll ask their gamekeepers to mix up their snares so that a single individual cannot be identified as being responsible for a particular area. But by doing so they’ll decrease the efficiency of their workforce (and efficiency is what they’re all about) because those keepers, being responsible for their own snares, will have to be zig-zagging across great swathes of moorland in order to check their snares, rather than focusing on a more compact area where they know every nook and cranny and use that knowledge to their advantage when targeting animals they want to kill.
We will be watching with interest to see how things develop.