Posts Tagged ‘clam trap


New rules for bird traps in Scotland

Last week Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) published some information about its proposed changes to the General Licences, effective from 1 April 2020.

Some of those changes include the removal of some bird species from some licences, and the removal of General Licences from some protected areas (to be replaced by individual licences) but we don’t intend to comment on any of that just now as Wild Justice’s legal team is currently evaluating the lawfulness of the proposals.

However, the news that ravens would NOT be added to the General Licences is very welcome, although we are hearing rumours that the so-called Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders (basically a load of gamekeepers) and GWCT might be preparing another application for a specific licence to kill ravens in Strathbraan. Freedom of Information requests have been submitted and we’ll keep you posted.

A considerable war chest is still available from the legal challenge made against the Strathbraan raven cull in 2018 and these funds are ring-fenced which means another legal challenge can be launched with immediate effect if necessary.

Another welcome aspect of SNH’s 2020 General Licences is the decision to register individual operators of bird traps.

[A multi-catch crow cage trap, baited with a live decoy bird and used to capture hundreds of birds which are then killed, often by being beaten to death with a stick. Photo by OneKind]

Previously in Scotland, the General Licence conditions have stated that live-catch corvid traps (e.g. Larsen traps, Larsen mate traps and multi-catch crow cage traps) have to display an identification number of the trap owner, but this number does not identify an individual trap operator, only the owner, typically the landowner or sporting agent. So if an alleged breach/offence has been detected, and the trap is located on a large grouse shooting estate where multiple gamekeepers are employed, it has been virtually impossible for the Police to identify an individual suspect (and thus charge anyone) because the estate and gamekeepers simply close rank, offer a ‘no comment’ response and fail to identify the actual trap user.

In reality this situation is laughable because very often on large shooting estates gamekeepers are employed specifically to manage a delineated area of an estate, known as a ‘beat’. Their job title is even ‘beatkeeper’ (as illustrated in this January 2020 advert, below) so the idea that, when an alleged offence has been discovered, an individual trap operator at a particular location on an estate can’t be identified is what might be called taking the piss.

Nevertheless, this apparent inability to identify a named suspect has happened time and time and time again, as regular blog readers will be only too aware. It’s why we (e.g. here) and especially the RSPB (e.g. here) have been campaigning for years to have this loophole closed.

The new registration requirements in the 2020 Scottish General Licences still don’t go far enough – there should at least be a requirement for trap operators to submit annual returns so that SNH, and others, can monitor the number of birds killed. But nevertheless, the requirement for individual trap users to be registered is a big step in the right direction. And this level of improved accountability, although still lacking, is way ahead of the General Licences in England and Wales as documented in this timely blog from the RSPB today.

For further information on the Scottish General Licences 2020 see these documents prepared by SNH:

General Licensing Changes Summary – February 2020

General Licensing Changes FAQs – February 2020


RSPB Scotland slams General Licence system as ‘cover for criminal destruction of raptors’

cage-trapEarlier this year, SNH opened a consultation on the use of General Licences (GLs), in anticipation of updating the terms of use for their suite of 2017 GLs.

This wasn’t anything new. SNH regularly reviews the GLs, but, as has happened so many times before, this year SNH has yet again ignored the on-going conservation concerns about the use of these GLs.

We’ve blogged about the terms of the GLs many times, particularly in relation to the mis-use of traps that are authorised under the terms of the GLs (e.g. see here, here, here, herehereherehere, here) and RSPB Scotland has been questioning the terms of GLs for over ten years (e.g. see here [pages 6-13] and here).

RSPB Scotland responded to this year’s GL consultation, repeating the same concerns as they had ten years ago. You can read their consultation response here: rspb_scotland_response_to-snh_2016_gl_consultation

(As an aside, SNH has now published all the responses to this year’s GL consultation but we’ll be blogging about that in another post).

A couple of weeks ago, SNH announced the changes it was making to the 2017 GLs and, surprise surprise, many of the concerns raised by RSPB Scotland and other conservation organisations have been totally ignored, again. You can read SNH’s announcement here: snh-ogl-consultation-response-letter-annexes-a-b-and-c

baited-clam1Amongst other things, SNH has decided to reinstate the use of meat bait inside clam traps (thus increasing the likelihood of catching birds of prey), and there is also a commitment to ‘explore new and responsive licensing solutions to prevent agricultural damage by ravens’. On-going concerns that have not been addressed include (but are not limited to) compliance (or not) with European environmental legislation; welfare concerns; poor trap design that allows indiscriminate species trapping; year-round use (as opposed to seasonal use); ineffective regulation of trap users; ineffective monitoring of trap use (i.e. number and species caught/killed); inability to identify an individual trap user; and the lovely get-out clause for any General Licence user with an unspent criminal conviction.

Justifiably, RSPB Scotland are pretty unimpressed, as well they should be, and they have issued a scathing press release about SNH’s failure to address long-term concerns, particularly in relation to the use of GLs as a cover for the illegal persecution of raptors. RSPB Scotland’s press release can be read here.

RSPB Scotland has also produced a video to highlight some of their concerns. Watch it here.

If you share RSPB Scotland’s concerns, and you agree that the current GL system is not fit for purpose, you can make your views known to SNH by emailing them at:


General licences suspended on four Scottish grouse moors in response to raptor persecution crimes

Yesterday, SNH published the following press release:

General licences restricted in wildlife crime hotspots

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has restricted the use of general licences on four properties in two wildlife crime hotspots – one in Stirlingshire and one in the Borders – this week. The decision was made on the basis of evidence provided by Police Scotland of wildlife crime against birds.

Nick Halfhide, SNH Director of Operations, said:

“There is clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on these properties. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the general licences on these four properties for three years. They may though still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

“This measure should help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, albeit under tighter supervision. We consider that this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime.”

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, including controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock.

The new measure complements other recent actions to reduce wildlife crime, including vicarious liability for offences against wild birds, which was introduced in 2011.

Restrictions will prevent people from using the general licences on the land in question for three years. This period will increase if more evidence of offences comes to light.


As promised in earlier correspondence with SNH about potential General Licence restrictions (e.g. see here), SNH has published ‘details’ of the current restrictions on its website. Although when we say ‘details’ we use the term loosely. The names of the estates have not been published (but see below) and the specific reasons (crimes) that triggered the restriction orders are also absent.

Instead, SNH has published two maps showing the areas where the three-year restriction orders will be in place.

Restriction order #1 can be viewed here: GL restriction order 1_ Nov 2015-2018

The map denoting the area relating to Restriction order #1 is here:

Raeshaw Corshope GL restriction map 2015

Having consulted Andy Wightman’s brilliant website Who Owns Scotland to check estate boundaries, we now know that the delineated area shown in Restriction order #1 includes parts of Raeshaw Estate and the neighbouring Corsehope Estate.

This is fascinating. Raeshaw Estate is well known to us and continues to be of interest. It is a mixed upland estate combining driven grouse shooting as well as pheasant and partridge shooting. We have documentary evidence that Mark Osborne’s company is involved in the estate management (more on that in the near future). Raeshaw Estate has been raided by the police at least twice (2004 and 2009 – poisoned and shot raptors and poisoned baits – see here) although nobody has ever been prosecuted for these crimes. However, the General Licence Restriction can only be applied for crimes that have been uncovered since 1st January 2014; it cannot be applied retrospectively for offences that took place prior to 1st January 2014. This means that further raptor crimes have been uncovered here but there has not been any publicity about them. Why not? There was news of a shot buzzard found in the nearby area on 24th July 2015 (see here), but this bird was found AFTER SNH had notified the estate of the intention to restrict the General Licence (see here) so this incident cannot be the one that triggered the General Licence Restriction.

Corsehope Estate has not been on our radar, although we’re told by local sources that gamekeepers from Raeshaw Estate are involved with ‘vermin control’ here so now we’re very interested.

Restriction order #2 can be viewed here: GL retriction order 2_ Nov 2015-2018

The map denoting the area relating to Restriction order #2 is here:

Burnfoot Wester Cringate GL restriction map 2015

Again, consulting Andy Wightman’s excellent website Who Owns Scotland to check estate boundaries, we now know that the delineated area shown in Restriction order #2 includes parts of Burnfoot Estate and Wester Cringate Estate.

This is also interesting. We believe (although it must be stressed that this is educated speculation as SNH has not published the information) that this restriction order probably relates to a series of raptor persecution crimes including a poisoned red kite (July 2014), a poisoned peregrine (February 2015) and an illegally trapped red kite (May 2015) – see here.

So, what do these General Licence Restriction orders mean? Basically, it means that the following activities, usually permitted under General Licences 1, 2 and 3, are now not permitted in the areas shown on the two maps for three years, starting 13th November 2015 and ending 12th November 2018:

The killing or taking of the following species:

Great black-backed gull, carrion crow, hooded crow, jackdaw, jay, rook, ruddy duck, magpie, Canada goose, collared dove, feral pigeon, wood pigeon, lesser black-back gull, and herring gull.

The use of the following methods to kill/take these species are not permitted:

Pricking of eggs, oiling of eggs, destruction of eggs and nests, use of Larsen trap, use of Larsen Mate trap, use of Larsen Pod trap, use of multi-catch crow cage trap, shooting with any firearm, targeted falconry, and by hand.

That sounds great, doesn’t it? But it’s not quite as clear cut as that. As we’ve discussed before, and as is stated in the SNH press release at the top of this blog, although these activities can no longer be carried out in the two denoted areas under the cover of the three General Licences, individuals may still apply for an individual licence to permit these activities, although SNH claims that if granted, these will be “closely monitored”.

What does ‘closely monitored’ actually mean? Closely monitored by whom? Daily inspections by SNH? Police Scotland? That’s hardly going to happen, is it?

Let’s hope that members of the general public, exercising their right to visit these areas under open access legislation, pay close attention to what’s going on around them. If they see a Larsen trap in use, or a crow cage trap in use, or witness any of the above bird species being killed/taken by any of the methods mentioned above, they inform the Police straight away. Actually, let’s hope they forget the police and inform RSPB Scotland and/or the SSPCA instead – they’re more likely to get a quick response from them.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out. On the one hand, we welcome these Restriction orders and applaud the Scottish Government (especially former Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse for initiating them), SNH and Police Scotland for pursuing what we hope will be the first of many such Restriction orders. But on the other hand, will these restrictions be anything more than a minor inconvenience to the estates involved because they can simply apply for individual licences to continue their game-shooting activities? We’ll have to wait and see.

RSPB Scotland’s response to the two General Licence Restriction orders here

As yet no response from Scottish Land & Estates or the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association but we’ll post them here if/when they comment.

UPDATE 11.50hrs: The SGA has issued the following statement on their website:

On November 4th 2015, SNH announced general licence restrictions to two areas encompassing four properties.
The SGA has issued the following statement in response to questions.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The SGA cannot condone wildlife crime and has a clear and consistent policy regarding this.
“As regards this case, it is our understanding that legal discussions are taking place regarding the areas affected and, therefore, it is not appropriate for us to comment further.”
UPDATE 13.20hrs: Statement from Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod:

“The announcement by SNH that the use of general licences has been restricted on specified areas of land in the Borders and in Stirlingshire is a result of work that the Scottish Government commissioned in July 2013 as part of a package of measures to combat wildlife crime.

We welcome the progress that has been made with this work. However we have not been involved in the decision-making and do not have any comment on the individual cases in question. The General Licence system is a light touch form of regulation. It is clearly sensible to apply closer scrutiny to areas where there is good evidence that wildlife crime has taken place, and we believe that this will prove a useful tool in the fight against bird of prey persecution.”


Leadhills Estate confirmed as member of Scottish Land & Estates

The Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in south Lanarkshire has featured regularly on this blog (see here).

Since 2003, 46 confirmed incidents of wildlife crime have been discovered either on or near to the estate, but only resulting in two successful convictions (2004 – gamekeeper convicted of shooting a short-eared owl; 2009 – gamekeeper convicted of laying out a poisoned rabbit bait). Here’s the list:

2003 April: hen harrier shot [prosecution failed – inadmissible evidence]

2003 April: hen harrier eggs destroyed [prosecution failed – inadmissible evidence]

2004 May: buzzard shot [no prosecution]

2004 May: short-eared owl shot [gamekeeper convicted]

2004 June: buzzard poisoned (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 June: 4 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 June: crow poisoned (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2004 July: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 February: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 April: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2005 June: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 February: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 March: poisoned pigeon bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 April: dead buzzard (persecution method unknown) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 May: poisoned egg baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: 6 x poisoned rabbit baits (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 June: poisoned egg bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: 5 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2006 September: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 March: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 April: poisoned red kite (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2007 May: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2008 October: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2008 October: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2008 November: 3 x poisoned ravens (Carbofuran) [listed as ‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

2009 March: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 March: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 April: poisoned rabbit bait (Carbofuran) [gamekeeper convicted]

2009 April: poisoned magpie (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2009 April: poisoned raven (Carbofuran) [no prosecution]

2010 October: short-eared owl shot [no prosecution]

2011 March: illegally-set clam trap [no prosecution]

2011 December: buzzard shot [no prosecution]

2012 October: golden eagle shot (just over boundary with Buccleuch Estate) [no prosecution]

2013 May: shot otter found on estate [no prosecution]

2013 June: significant cache of pre-prepared poisoned baits found on estate [no prosecution]

2013 August: red kite found shot and critically-injured in Leadhills village [no prosecution]

2014 February: poisoned peregrine (Carbofuran) [‘Nr Leadhills’] [no prosecution]

For a long time, we’ve been trying to find out whether this estate is a member of the landowners’ organisation Scottish Land and Estates – an organisation that regularly claims to be fighting hard against raptor persecution. All our attempts to find out have been met with a wall of silence. We knew that Lord Hopetoun served on the SLE Board, so it was quite likely that his estate would be a member of SLE, but we weren’t able to find definitive evidence.

Well, we have now. Leadhills Estate has launched its own website (see here). It’s a spectacular example of how to conduct a public relations charm offensive – lots of info about how the estate is supporting the local community: providing a new home for the volunteer fire crew, lending a hand on Gala Day, engaging in a village clean-up for Christmas, and providing support for the Leadhills Miners Library. It brings a tear to the eye. There’s also plenty of encouragement for walkers to keep to the tracks so as not to disturb the wildlife – because Leadhills Estate really cares about wildlife.

Of most interest to us is a statement on the web site’s home page:

‘Leadhills Estate is a member of Scottish Land and Estates – an organisation which promotes the work of landowners and rural businesses undertake [sic] for the benefit of rural Scotland’.

Amazing. We’d love to hear how SLE justifies the membership of Leadhills Estate in their wildlife-crime-fighting organisation.

The Leadhills Estate website also includes a gallery showing images that visitors can expect to see when they visit this most welcoming of estates. Here’s another one for them – taken at one of many stink pits hidden away on Leadhills Estate (far from the tracks that visitors are encouraged to stick to). For those who don’t know, stink pits are used (legally) by gamekeepers in which to dump the rotting carcasses and entrails of dead wildlife. They set snares around the edge of the stink pit to catch (and then kill) any animals that may be attracted to the stench of death (typically foxes). This particular stink pit includes a few fox carcasses oh, and a cat. Nice, eh? Welcome to Leadhills Estate.

Leadhills dead cat stinkpit - Copy




New study suggests that killing crows is mostly pointless, most of the time

crows in trap Walter BaxterYesterday saw the publication of a new scientific research paper entitled: A review of the impacts of corvids on bird productivity and abundance. The paper is available for free download here.

If you want to skip over the technical details, the authors have helpfully issued a press release which provides a more general overview for the more casual reader. It reads as follows:


They steal, raid nests, and keep the company of witches. But the unpopular crow may not be as big a menace as people think.

A new study has found that crows – along with their avian cousins the magpie and the raven – have surprisingly little impact on the abundance of other bird species.

Collectively known as corvids, these birds are in fact being menaced by mankind in the mistaken belief that removing them is good for conservation.

The new study was led by researchers at the University of Cape Town and published this week in the leading ornithological journal Ibis. It found that in the vast majority of cases (82 percent), corvids had no impact at all on their potential prey species.

“Many nature lovers have been distressed to witness a crow or magpie raiding the nests of their beloved garden songbirds, stealing their eggs or eating their defenceless chicks,” said study co-author Dr Arjun Amar from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute for Ornithology. “Although this predation is entirely natural, these observations can be upsetting to witness and often leave people wondering if these predators might be reducing bird numbers.”

“However, our global review suggests that we should be cautious before jumping to conclusions over the impacts these species may have. Just because a predator eats something occasionally does not always mean that they have an impact,” Dr Amar said.

The study, the first of its kind, reviewed all published evidence on whether predation by corvids actually reduces the overall breeding performance of birds or, more importantly from a conservation perspective, reduces their numbers. Data were collated from 42 studies of corvid predation conducted across the globe over the last sixty years.

Not only were corvids unlikely to have any impact on their potential prey species, if there was an impact it most often affected the breeding success of the prey species rather their subsequent numbers. Half of cases found that corvids reduced breeding success whereas less than 10% of cases found that they reduced prey numbers in the long term.

“These results have big implications for the likely benefits of corvid control,” Dr Amar said. “They suggest that killing corvids will be of most benefit to those interested in gamebird shooting rather than conservationists.” He added: “Bird hunters are usually most interested in increasing numbers of birds available to shoot immediately after the breeding season and this appears to be where corvids have most impact”. “Conservationists on the other hand, are usually interested in increasing a species population size and our results suggest that only in a very few cases did corvids have an influence on this aspect of their prey,” Dr Amar said.

The review analysed the impact of six corvid species on a variety of prey species including gamebirds, songbirds, waders, herons, cranes, sea birds, waterfowl and raptors. The 42 studies incorporated into the review included 326 cases of corvid – bird prey interaction Most of the data stemmed from field research in the UK, France and the United States. The impacts were determined partly by comparing bird counts before and after corvids were either removed or their numbers reduced.

The review also found large differences between the impacts of crows, historically considered the most ‘cunning’ corvid, and magpies which are sometimes killed by home owners hoping to protect songbirds in their gardens. Crow species were six times more likely to have an impact on bird prey species than Magpies.

Mistaken assumptions about corvid predation were possibly explained by the birds’ diurnal nature and the fact that they are conspicuous nest predators: “Their importance in prey population regulation is often assumed prior to any assessment of the evidence,” the study warned.

Chrissie Madden, the lead author on the paper, hoped that the review would challenge the perception that all corvids were bad, thereby preventing needless killing: “Our results suggest that this is a mistaken belief and that generally speaking people would be wasting their time killing corvids to increase bird numbers”.

“Overall therefore, our study points to the fact that we are often too quick to jump to the conclusion that crows and magpies may be the cause of bird population declines,” she said.


SNH logo 2The paper itself is an interesting bit of science, but of more interest (to us at least) is the potential application of the research results. Basically, this review paper has shown that in the vast majority of cases, corvids (including crows and ravens) have little effect on their prey populations, and thus this raises an important question about the validity (and legality) of Government-issued General Licences which allow the mass killing of corvids, supposedly for the purposes of ‘conserving wild birds’.

General Licences have long been an issue of concern to conservationists, and we have blogged about this a lot (e.g. see here & scroll down through the posts and links). General Licences are routinely used by gamekeepers and land managers for the largely unregulated practice of killing so-called ‘pest’ species, especially corvids, in Larsen traps, clam traps and crow cage traps, or by shooting them. However, General Licences are not permitted to be used to kill ‘pest’ species for the purposes of protecting surplus stocks of gamebirds, even though that is exactly what gamekeepers have been doing, although they don’t admit to that – they simply claim they are ‘controlling vermin’ to protect wild birds such as waders.

How will SNH deal with the results of this latest study, given the overwhelming evidence that corvid predation isn’t having a significant impact on wild bird species in the majority of cases?

Don’t expect a quick response from SNH. We are still waiting for them to deal with other concerns that have been raised about the use of General Licences, some of which were raised in a publication dating back 15 years:


Interestingly, SNH has recently announced that their suite of 2015 General Licences will shortly (this week) be published on their website, WITHOUT conducting a public consultation and WITHOUT any substantive changes to their 2014 licences. Robbie Kernahan (SNH licensing dept) said:

From our previous consultations and discussions on the GL suite, I think we have a good understanding of the key issues and your outstanding concerns relating to General Licences“.

So that’s ok then. SNH understands the key issues and concerns but has decided not to address them. Brilliant.

Although, they are apparently addressing one aspect of trap use and have been conducting a questionnaire survey of trap-users (see here). As we blogged at the time, asking trap-users for a truthful account of their activities is, frankly, ridiculous. We all saw quite graphically last week, with the conviction of gamekeeper George Mutch, how some of these trap-users are operating.

We’ll be re-visiting this topic in the New Year.

Photo of trapped corvids by Walter Baxter


SNH launches ‘independent’ (ahem) study into trap use

cage-trapThe long-awaited study into the use of corvid traps in Scotland has finally begun.

This research was first proposed in late 2012, following SNH’s controversial decision to permit the use of clam-type traps on the 2013 General Licences (see here for associated blog posts). There was much opposition to this inclusion, based on concerns that these traps are likely to cause unacceptable risks to non-target species (including raptors). SNH ignored the majority of respondents to a public consultation, who had called for research to be conducted BEFORE the traps were authorised; SNH decided to go ahead and allow the use of these traps and do the research AFTERWARDS.

Following a series of Parliamentary Questions in December 2012 about this decision, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “We will commission objective research on these traps“. SNH then announced they would conduct ‘rigorous and independent’ tests.

SNH has now commissioned two organisations to conduct that ‘objective, rigorous and independent’ research. Those two organisations are Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

We have no problem with SASA – they have no vested interests in the removal of predators to enhance the number of gamebirds available for shooting and therefore can be seen as being thoroughly independent on this topic. But GWCT? This is the organisation that has consistently petitioned for buzzards and sparrowhawks to be included on the General Licences (thus allowing them to be culled in the interests of game-shooting) and many of their Trustees are directly involved with game-shooting. Not what we’d call ‘independent’.

According to the SNH press release about this new study, the research will cover all the different types of traps that are currently licensed for use in Scotland (e.g. clam-type traps, Larsen traps, crow cage traps). That’s good – concerns about these traps and their use have been unresolved for many years. These include (but are not limited to) compliance (or not) with European environmental legislation; welfare concerns; poor trap design that allows indiscriminate species trapping; year-round use (as opposed to seasonal use); ineffective regulation of crow trap users; ineffective monitoring of crow trap use (i.e. number and species caught/killed); inability to identify an individual trap user (traps are registered to estates, not to individual users); and a lovely get-out clause for any General Licence user with an unspent criminal conviction. Will this new research address all of those concerns? We’ll have to wait and see.

The press release states that the first phase of the research involves a survey of trap users from the following organisations: British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), GWCT, and National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS). Hmm. Does anybody believe that these users are going to admit to having caught a non-target species? Or admit to ‘accidentally’ injuring or killing a trapped non-target species? Given that it is widely accepted (even by the Environment Minister) that these traps are often used for the illegal persecution of raptors, how reliable will these survey results be?

Curiously, there’s no mention of other interest-groups being involved (e.g. RSPB, SSPCA, SRSG, OneKind) – all of whom have previously expressed concerns about how these traps are used – but hopefully that’s just an oversight in the wording of the press release and not an accurate reflection of their actual participation in the study.

Later stages of the study will apparently include ‘field studies of how different traps are used in practice’. We hope the final report will also include information about every single incident of illegal trap-use recorded in Scotland over the last five years, including incidents that resulted in the conviction of a gamekeeper and those cases that remain unresolved.

Download the SNH press release: General Licences – Trapping Project – May 2014 press release

UPDATE 13.40hrs: A previous study looking at the use, abuse and misuse of crow cage traps in Scotland was undertaken by the Scottish Raptor Study Groups and RSPB Scotland in 1998. It was published in 1999 in the journal Scottish Birds (Vol. 20, pages 6-13). Download it here: Dick & Stronach 1999 Use, Abuse & Misuse of Crow Traps


Latest measure to tackle raptor persecution now in place

Paul-Wheelhouse-MSP Last July, following a series of raptor persecution incidents, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse announced his intention to introduce ‘further measures’ to tackle the ongoing problem (see here).

One of those measures has recently come in to force (as of 1st Jan 2014).

That measure is an enabling paragraph in some of the 2014 General Licences that says this:

SNH reserves the right to exclude the use of this General Licence by certain persons and/or on certain areas of land where we have reason to believe that wild birds have been taken or killed by such persons and/or on such land other than in accordance with this General Licence.

First of all, we applaud Paul Wheelhouse’s intentions, at least, and his determination to make sure this measure has been enacted. Good for him. However, as we blogged at the time, we really don’t see how this latest measure can be enforced (see here for our reasons).

For once, it seems that many of the game-shooting organisations are in agreement with us. Before SNH issued the 2014 General Licences, they had their usual consultation period and asked for comments about this new enabling paragraph, amongst other things (see here). They have just published those consultation responses and all the respondents from within the game-shooting lobby raised many of the same concerns as us.

So, even though this new measure is now in place, it is highly unlikely that it will ever be effectively deployed….a bit like the legislation relating to vicarious liability. We might be wrong, of course, but only time will tell.

In general terms, the 2014 General Licences are not much better than the 2013 General Licences in that many of the previous concerns raised (going back several years!) have still not been addressed. We’ve blogged about this a lot (e.g. see here, here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here) and don’t intend to go over all the points again….not just yet, anyway. We understand that SNH is intending to organise further research in 2014 to address many of the concerns, although they said that when they issued the 2013 General Licences and yet here we are, another year gone by and we’re still waiting for that research.

While we wait, it’s worth you having a look at the responses to the 2014 General Licence consultation – especially the response from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, who once again are asking for ‘quota systems’ for buzzards, ravens, pine martens and badgers.

Download the PDF here: Consultation responses to General Licences 2014

Naturally, we’ll be watching with interest to see whether SNH has cause to withdraw the use of the General Licences, on the basis that they have ‘reason to believe’ that wild birds have been illegally taken or killed. The enabling paragraph probably cannot be used retrospectively so we’ll just have to wait until we see the next incident of criminal activity, which probably won’t be too far off, and then we’ll see what happens.



supersize me

Check this out. It’s a giant supersized clam trap (also known as a Larsen Mate trap, a snapper trap and a butterfly trap) that was on sale at this summer’s Galloway Country Fair.

These traps are supposedly for catching crows.

Do you think the trap size has been increased from the standard size to allow the trapped victim more space to be comfortable before it’s bludgeoned to death by the trap operator? Or do you think the size has been increased to allow the capture of larger species…?

We’ve blogged a lot about these controversial traps over the last 12 months (see here and scroll down through the posts) and we’re likely to be blogging about them again before the end of the year as we await SNH’s proposed ‘Code of Conduct’ on trap use, likely to be published in November/December when the 2014 General Licences are announced…

supersized clam trap


Clam traps: SNH in the last chance saloon

snh_logoOn Tuesday we blogged about SNH’s response to our concerns over the on-going clam trap fiasco (see here). We said we would outline what we thought the next step should be. Here are our thoughts:

There are two main issues. The first one is that the consultation process was flawed. It did not meet the standard required by the Scottish Government’s ‘Consultation Good Practice Guide’, which is applicable to an agency like SNH (see here).

For example, consultations should allow “at least 12 weeks to respond”. This particular consultation opened on October 1st 2012 and closed on November 9th 2012, thus only allowing 5.5 weeks in which to respond. In addition, in order to be transparent, SNH should have provided feedback on how each and every point raised during the consultation was treated. As far as we can tell, this has not taken place. Instead, it appears that the majority of points raised have been ignored (in terms of the final outcome of the consultation). In which case it could be argued that the whole consultation was pointless; SNH had already decided what they were going to do, regardless of the majority view of respondents, and they were just going through the motions of holding a public consultation to appease those of us who might object to their proposals.

The second main issue is the basis of evidence that SNH used to approve the use of clam-type traps. According to SNH, the consultation did not provide any evidence that clam-type traps were unsafe for target and/or non-target species, or a threat to protected species. Instead, they argued that as clam-type traps had previously been in use (albeit probably illegally!) it would be “disproportionate to ban their use outright”. There are several problems with this argument.

First of all, it is clear that no independent testing has taken place to provide evidence that these traps are safe. If SNH are using the ‘lack of available evidence’ to show that the traps are unsafe, then surely that mandate should also apply to demonstrate that the traps are safe before they are authorised for use? Is there any evidence to show that the traps have no welfare or lethal impacts to either target or non target species, which may include protected species, to justify their use? If there is evidence, it has not been made available to the public, in which case, SNH should have applied the precautionary principle and not authorised these traps until such time as independent testing shows they pose no threat to animal welfare as well as no impact on non-target species, some of which may be protected species.

Secondly, SNH have argued that by restricting the type of bait for these traps (bread and eggs only), they have “minimised the risk to non-target species”. Whilst this may be applicable to raptors, it certainly does not minimise the risk to other protected, non-target species, including the pine marten, a species that loves to eat eggs! According to SNH’s own website, it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly capture a pine marten unless you have a special licence to do so (see here). So why authorise a trap that, depending on its location, is highly likely to capture a pine marten?!

Thirdly, SNH said that it would be “disproportionate to ban their [the traps] use outright”. But, if you read the responses to the consultation, the majority of respondents were not asking for an ‘outright ban’ – they were asking for independent testing prior to the traps being authorised. Furthermore, there are alternative traps (Larsen trap) that could be used if clam-type traps were not approved this year or until such time as a trial showed that they are safe. So for SNH to say that not approving their use is ‘disproportionate’ is overstating the reason for approving the use of these traps.

So, where to go from here? In the first instance, we propose that people contact SNH and ask them to provide evidence to show that clam-type traps have no welfare or lethal impacts on either target or non-target species, and if they can’t provide such evidence then they should pull the clam-type trap from the General Licences until such time as that evidence is available.

This is SNH’s last chance to act. If the evidence is not forthcoming and SNH still refuse to withdraw the clam-type trap from the General Licences, then the next step would be to go to the Ombudsman and ask whether SNH has carried out this consultation appropriately.

If that fails, then we think there is a very strong case for making a formal complaint against SNH to the EU, for failing to protect the very species that they have a statutory duty to protect. This complaint wouldn’t just be limited to the clam-type trap issue – it would cover other traps that SNH have authorised, including crow-cage traps, without addressing the legitimate concerns about their use. These concerns have been raised over and over again during the last few years (see the current and previous consultation responses of groups such as RSPB, SRSGs and OneKind for examples) and SNH has consistently ignored them. They may argue that they’re going to address these concerns in their proposed ‘Code of Practice’ that they say they will develop ‘early this year’. The problem with that is it has not been made clear whether they will actually address all the concerns, and even if they do, whether this ‘Code of Practice’ will be a voluntary code (in which case it’ll be worthless) or whether breaking this code will be considered a formal breach of the conditions of the General Licence (and therefore should result in a prosecution).

It’s time to get serious. Please consider emailing SNH. It only takes a minute. The complaint should go right to the top again: Ian Jardine, (Chief Executive SNH) –

If you’re not sure what to write, either copy the blog URL into the body an email, or you could use the following text as a guide – simply cut and paste or adapt it to your own words:

Dear Dr Jardine,

Re: the recent SNH consultation which led to the authorisation of clam-type traps in the 2013 Open General Licences.

Please can you provide the evidence you have used to demonstrate that clam-type traps have no welfare or lethal impacts to target or non-target species. If the evidence is unavailable, please consider withdrawing the use of clam-type traps from the Open General Licences until such time as independent and rigorously tested evidence is available.



Latest on SNH clam trap fiasco

snh_logoThe SNH clam trap fiasco continues. First, here’s a quick re-cap on their controversial decision to authorise the use of clam-type traps in the 2013 Open General Licences:

In October 2012, SNH announced that they would undertake a public consultation about the use of clam-type traps in Scotland (see here).

In early December 2012, following the public consultation, SNH announced that they would allow the use of clam-type traps on the Open General Licences beginning 1st January 2013 (see here). We questioned whether SNH had favoured the views of game-shooting lobby and ignored the views of the conservationists, and we asked to see the full set of consultation responses.

In mid-December 2012, SNH’s decision to authorise the use of clam traps led to several parliamentary questions. The questions can be read here, and the Environment Minister’s responses can be read here. The responses suggested that the Scottish Government didn’t see anything wrong with the decision to authorise clam-type trap use.

Meanwhile, also in mid-December 2012, at least two organisations (SSPCA and RSPB) asked SNH to reconsider their decision to approve the use of clam-type traps (see here).

In late December 2012, we blogged about how to recognise a clam trap being used lawfully and one being used unlawfully (see here).

In late December, SNH released the full set of consultation responses for scrutiny. In early January, we blogged about our analysis of these responses and concluded that SNH had not been truthful when they’d said that the “majority of consultees supported the proposed amendments” and that their decision to authorise the use of clam traps was based on “the feedback received“. In fact, our analysis showed that more than twice as many respondents were against the use of clam traps prior to independent testing than those who were supportive of their use! (see here). We encouraged people to contact SNH Chief Executive Ian Jardine to ask for an explanation.

So, the latest update is that SNH have now responded. The following generic letter was sent out in mid-January by one of Ian Jardine’s underlings, Nick Halfhide, Head of Operations:

I am sorry that you disagree with the decision that we have taken to include clam-type traps in the 2013 General Licences. We are aware of the potential risks to non-target species from these, as with other licensed traps, but at the same time we recognise the legitimate needs of the land management community to control certain bird species.

In balancing the needs of land managers and the risk to non-target species, we sought to gather evidence through the recent public consultation to inform our decision making. This produced much valid opinion but little solid evidence. We therefore formed the view that as these traps are already in use, and have been for some time, it would be disproportionate to ban their use outright.

Instead, we decided to take steps to minimise the risk to non-target species by placing a special condition that eggs or bread are the only permitted baits for use with Larsen mate and Larsen pod traps. In addition we intend to further test these traps this year which will be both rigorous and independent. If evidence does come to light that they pose unacceptable risks then any General Licence permitting their use could be revoked at any time.

I also understand your concerns over the potential misuse of all traps permitted under General Licences and this is something that we take very seriously. These issues are of course not new and we are aware of the recent misuse of traps to target birds of prey and this is something we are very keen to address.

We believe that one important step will be to develop a Code of Practice with the industry and key stakeholders – this document would provide clarity on design and use of traps to ensure that there is a clear understanding and agreement as to when and how they can be used. This should help to maximise their effectiveness in addressing the legitimate needs of users whilst minimising risk in relation to animal welfare, conservation and potential for misuse. We aim to take this forward early this year.

Finally, in relation to views received during the formal consultation last year, I agree that the majority of respondents did not favour the use of clam traps but were in favour of clarifying which traps could be used under General Licence. The commentary on this point in paragraph 2 of section 5 of Annex 1 in the letter to consultees dated 4 December 2012 is ambiguous and thus confusing, for which I apologise.

Yours sincerely

Nick Halfhide

Head of Operations”

Having considered this response for a few weeks, we have now decided on the next course of action. We think the SNH response is unsatisfactory in that it still does not address the fundamental problem behind their decision to authorise the use of clam-type traps; that is, SNH’s decision not to carry out independent testing prior to authorising clam trap use. A further blog entry will explain what we can do about it….

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