Scottish Government to review use of stink pits on game shooting estates

Yesterday the Scottish Parliament debated the use of stink pits (middens) on game-shooting estates, following a motion from Christine Grahame MSP.

Stink pits are piles of rotting animal carcasses (often including the corpses of wild and domestic animals) that are dumped in a heap and surrounded by snares. The putrefying stench from the corpses attracts predators to the pit who are then caught in the snares, killed and thrown on to the pit. This is all quite legal as long as the animals have been lawfully killed.

The official transcript of the debate can be read here: Stink pit debate_ScotParl_15June2017

Take note of the comments made by Peter Chapman MSP (Conservative, NE Scotland, a former vice president of NFUS and now serving as Shadow Cabinet Minister for the Rural Economy & Connectivity). According to Peter,

On baiting, a proper midden is located in an area where target species can be naturally channelled and, as such, I am told that descriptions of piles of carcases are frankly incorrect. Indeed, such piles are not necessary: it does not take a tonne of wheat to attract a rat—a small pile will do—and it would be the same for a midden“.

This was challenged by Christine Grahame who asked whether Peter had seen the online photographs of piles of carcasses. He had to admit that he had (so therefore his assertion that Christine’s claim was ‘frankly incorrect’ was, er, totally incorrect). Peter claimed that “despite spending my whole working life living and working in the countryside“, he had not ever seen a stink pit nor even heard of one before yesterday’s debate. Perhaps he needs to get out a bit more. Here’s one, photographed in his own constituency (on Glenogil Estate) – a pile of bloodied, rotting mountain hares dumped underneath a tree and surrounded by snares (Photo by one of our blog readers who wishes to remain anonymous):

Aside from Peter’s uninformed comments, other MSPs spoke of their revulsion of stink pits and expressed shock that there is currently no regulation or legislation covering stink pit use in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham spoke at the end of the debate and claimed that “stink pits are used as a way of maximising the effectiveness of snaring as a means of fox control. They are used to draw foxes into fewer, more easily checked sites; thus, they have the benefit of concentrating snaring effort and reducing the number of snares that are set in the wider countryside“. That’s an interesting claim. Is there any evidence to support it? Given that nobody knows how many stink pits are in use at any given time, or how many snares are set at any given time, it seems a bit of a jump to argue that stink pits reduce the number of snares used in the wider countryside, doesn’t it? You could equally argue that stink pits ADD to the number of snares being set on these estates. Without supporting data, both claims are as valid/invalid as each other.

Anyway, the good news is that Roseanna has confirmed that stink pit use will be under review by two separate groups. One is the Scottish Government’s Technical Assessment Group, who will review stink pits as part of their overall snaring review. The other is the yet-to-be established independent group that will review grouse moor management practices, as announced last month in response to continued illegal raptor persecution. We look forward to hearing more about that group, and its full remit, in the very near future.


16 Responses to “Scottish Government to review use of stink pits on game shooting estates”

  1. 1 Thomas David Dick
    June 16, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Like so many issues and techniques within the so-called game shooting “industry”…research or even recording of the effectiveness of stink pits will be virtually non-existent. The whole culture of game shooting in Scotland is based on a laissez-faire, we know whats best attitude – and when politicians or even local residents [who are not encouraged to go and look at “vermin” control methods] start asking questions, they are given glib answers which contain not a shred of credibility. …and they swallow such self-serving nonsense hook line and sinker.

  2. 2 George M
    June 16, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    A few years ago there used to be a stinkpit at Shinfur, just off the Fungle hill track, and situated in a small plantation of coniferous trees. It was there for quite a few years and within half a mile of where I used to regularly see a wildcat. There was everything from foxes and deer to black backed gulls and corvids piled in and it was surrounded by a barricade of broken branches from trees with small passages left open as entrances to the dead carcasses. On each side of the entrances were wire snares. The stink was unimaginable and though I was repelled by what I saw there was nothing I could do about it due to the fact it was legal. Time this practise was stopped immediately.

  3. 3 Stephen Brown
    June 16, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    I applaud all and any MSP who spoke out against stink pits in the debate. I emailed my SNP MSP – Angela Constance for comment before the debate yesterday but regrettably as with other emails to her on environmental subjects I received no reply.

  4. June 16, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    These could justifiably be controlled or banned based on contamination dangers – dependant on location – levels etc., and how close to watercourse – to say nothing of transfer of disease to live animals via corvid feeding at pits. This is clearly out-dated and can’t be justified in this day and age. It’s an indicator of 19th century mindsets. It may be legal simply because no-one except a handful of estate workers are aware they still exist. It’s just another blot in the copybook, that, given a measure of publicity, will add to the list to influence public opinion and another example of “behind the scenes” practises.

  5. June 16, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    Aren’t all these ‘reviews’ synonymous with “kicked into the long grass?”
    Why do we need a review of stink pits? The very practice is inhumane, barbaric and indiscriminate.

  6. 6 Merlin
    June 16, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    Incredibly naive comment from Roseanna Cunningham, she needs to have a word with her advisors, does she honestly believe gamekeepers would set less snares because they use a stink pit, so they would let a fox amble across the moors in the hope it will head straight for the stink pit and hopefully ignore all the Grouse along the way, I’m shocked anybody even a Tory MP would stand up and try to say anything positive about this National disgrace.

  7. 7 Secret Squirrel
    June 16, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    Snaring needs to be banned and consigned to history

    • 8 J .Coogan
      June 16, 2017 at 10:59 pm

      Totally agree as would any right thinking person after viewing these images ,but not it would seem our elected leaders, I despair for the human race, who in their right mind can even begin to justify this barbarity. Roseanna Cunningham you really need to have a long look at yourself in the mirror, personally I’ve had it with the SNP , I used to be a paid up member , now I would not even vote for them.

  8. 9 AnMac
    June 16, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    I watched the debate and was astounded by the lack of knowledge of the subject by Peter Chapman. To make matters worse he had the audacity to make bold statements to back up his position which we know were all make believe.

    It is also unbelievable that he has a position in government as a shadow Cabinet Minister.

    God help us all. I’m glad were not at war!!

  9. June 16, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    A good time to increase pressure for the banning of snares.
    If fox control is necessary for conservation of ground nesting birds, this should be carried out in the most humane manner.
    Lamping with rifle is the way, not the use of snares.

    Keep up the pressure !

  10. 12 Flash
    June 16, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    I watched the session and thought that Christine Grahame was an excellent speaker, as she so often is. I was disappointed by the low number of MSPs present (only about eight). Labour, SNP and Green members all spoke well and knowledgably but inevitably the utterly predictable Tory did not agree that the subject merits a review, even though he’s never even seen a midden.

  11. 13 lizzybusy
    June 17, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    Goodness, you’d think Roseanne Cunningham and Peter Chapman would have been better informed, given their positions. This is what the GWCT and the industry code of practice say and the law!

    Stink pits generally use brushwood ‘fence-like’ barriers around the piles of carcasses with gaps in them where the snares are set. The barriers obviously create strangulation hazards to animals that jump in the brushwood as they try to escape. So – here are the quotes …

    Where to set snares, GWCT


    Avoid snare sites cluttered by obstacles where there’s a strong risk of a captured animal getting the snare entangled. This often leads to considerable suffering and/or death. Alternatively, the snare swivels may become inoperative, leading to cable breakage and loss of the captured animal, often with the snare noose fixed around its body. Fences and gates carry a special risk of fatal entanglement and an increased risk of non-target captures. Do not set snares around the edges of release pens if there is a risk of entanglement occurring, for example with electric fencing equipment. In Scotland, the Snares (Scotland) Order 2010 made it an offence to set a snare in a place where a captured animal caught by the snare is likely to become fully or partially suspended, or drown. Beware therefore of setting of snares on, over or very near to watercourses, ditches, fences, scrub ‘clutter’, in forestry or on some steep banks.

    The humaneness and non-target issues associated with entanglement are completely avoidable without loss of efficiency, because open sites are equally good or even better for catching – provided you have chosen and prepared your snares as described in this leaflet. Snares coloured as above and mounted on wire tealers will catch successfully even when set in open places without any vegetation cover. Foxes unthinkingly follow existing tracks if they offer easier walking. So try vehicle tracks even when they are just a pale stripe on the grass. You can even make your own track deliberately. If you have a fussy-footed dog that dislikes getting its feet wet or walking on stones (collies, whippets, and terriers are useful for this), watch where it trots: often it will indicate the nearly invisible route that foxes too will instinctively follow. Once you gain an appreciation of the kind of routes all foxes will instinctively take, there needn’t even be a run visible. We have caught foxes on a newly drilled field by judging where a fox would trot to go around a projecting bramble.

    What snares to use, GWCT

    “long snares increase the risk of the captive becoming entangled, either in the snare, or around some obstacle. Entanglement greatly increases the risk of captive injury, so snares should be kept as short as possible. We recommend that snares should be approximately one metre in length, from the outer edge of a fully closed snare noose, to the end of the anchor swivel.”

    Code of best practice on the use of snares for fox control in England, 2016
    “Legal Requirements
    3 It is an offence for a person to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal under their control (this applies to animals while held in snares and the means by which they are killed).
    4 It is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to a domestic animal.”

    “• Snares must be attached to a firmly fixed anchor, designed not to entangle the snare or to harm any animals caught.”

    “• Always use a Code compliant snare….

    “• Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 you are responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure that the welfare needs of all animals under your control (including those caught in a snare) are met, to the extent required by good practice. In this context, that the animal is protected from pain and suffering.

    “At each inspection the following must be done …
    6.Check that your snares are set and positioned as intended.”

    “Never set snares:
    1.Under or near fences or other obstructions, like saplings, hedges, walls or gates that could cause entanglement.
    5.On … fallen trees ….
    6 In such a way that the restrained animal could become fully or partially suspended, entangled, drowned or strangled.”

    “Snares must only be used as restraining rather than killing devices. Snares should be set in open sites such as field edges, tramlines, along runs, trails or tracks, such as vehicle tracks, where foxes are likely to travel through.” Code of best practice on the use of snares for fox control in England, 2005.”

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