Tougher regulations on the use of snares, but no outright ban were announced by Mike Russell, the Scottish environment minister last Wednesday.
1. Tougher regulations on the use of snares, but no outright ban were announced by Mike Russell, the Scottish environment minister on Wednesday, 20 February 2008. He said: “I have come to the conclusion that snaring is still necessary in some circumstances. However, it is also clear to me that we can and must do better in terms of elimination bad practice – which is responsible for some of the dreadful cases brought forward by animal rights organizations… The public are rightly concerned about what happens to the wildlife that is part of all our heritage. They need to be absolutely confident that where snaring is necessary, there is no room for any doubt about what is allowed, that the practice is undertaken by competent and responsible individuals, that we have outlawed any practices which do not match up to welfare standards – and that we are vigorously enforcing that law.”
2. Mike Russell claimed that proposed measures would make a “fundamental” change to the practice of snaring in Scotland. Supporters of snaring argued that it was a “regrettable but essential tool in controlling predators such as foxes” and that “it was essential to maintain the land used for grouse and pheasant shoots.” Russell pointed out that shooting was worth an estimated £240 million a year to the Scottish economy and he said that farmers “often had to rely on efficient predator control to protect the likes of lambs, while farmers and crofters might also have to protect crops from rabbits.”
3. Measures to be introduced include a requirement for safety stops to prevent the noose closing too far and harming animals. Snares will also need ID tags, so the authorities – but not the public – can identify their owner. Setting a snare where it could cause “unnecessary suffering” will be banned. Areas where snares are set will have to be clearly marked. Attempts were unsuccessful to ban snares under the Nature Conservation Act Scotland 2003, but powers were given to ministers to consult further on the issue. Robin Harper, Scottish Green Party MSP and co-convenor of the Cross Party Group on Animal Welfare, says that 85% of vets support a complete ban on snares; he says that “European legislation means we must get rid of indiscriminate means of capture and killing.” Cerys Roberts, a LACS campaigner, explains that many of the game birds bought in the UK start their lives in France or Spain, bred from laying hens kept in intensive battery conditions. They are then sold on through a chain of suppliers and processors.” She points out that “many game birds are the product of industrial-scale rearing, enduring factory-farming methods as brutal as those suffered by chickens.”
4. The Duchess of Hamilton began Letters to the Editor in the Times on 18 February 2008 with an unequivocal call to “Ban Snares now”, citing the experiences of her husband and herself. “In one case, a female otter had been caught in a snare ‘accidentally’ by poachers. She was caught around her middle but was still alive, and as she moved her wound gaped and her organs were falling out. In another case I found a kitten dead in a snare, which had cut through her flesh and disembowelled her as she tried to escape before she died.” Describing snares as “a primitive means of pest control used on some farms and sporting estates,” they are both cruel and indiscriminate traps. They are set to catch so-called pests such as foxes and rabbits, but in reality any animal is at risk from getting caught in a snare, “including protected animals such as badgers, otters, and mountain hares, other wild animals such as deer, farmed animals, and even domestic cats and dogs. It really is quite shocking that people can use such cruel traps in a supposedly civilized society,” the Duchess concludes.
5. Reassurances followed a day or two later in the Times Letters page, notably in a communication from Ian McCall of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. Another letter expressed agreement with “sporting estates and farmers that the protection of some species – such as ground nesting birds or rare plants – requires the control of other species such as foxes and rabbits.”
6. DEFRA’s Code of Practice on the Use of Snares in Fox and Rabbit Control, which includes legal obligations for snare users in England and Wales, summarizes some of the main features of usage: snares are used most commonly in fox and rabbit control but are also set for a variety of other purposes including, for example, to capture rabbits for food and foxes for research programs. In addition to foxes and rabbits, other target species that can legally be snared include rats, grey squirrels, and mink. In the code’s own words “snaring is subject to legal restrictions and when properly practised is an effective and relatively humane form of control. Snaring can, however, cause welfare problems when used incorrectly by creating distress and injury both to the animals for which the snare is set and through the accidental capture of non-target species. It is the responsibility of all involved in pest and predator control to ensure their methods are legal, humane, and carried out with sensitivity and respect for other countryside users.
7. The Codes comment that: The use of snares for fox or rabbit control is only one method available to land managers to minimize damage to game, wildlife, livestock, or crops. Predation by foxes can be reduced, in some cases, by fox-proofing methods, and fox numbers reduced by shooting and cage trapping. However, killing of cage-trapped foxes can be difficult using firearms. Likewise, rabbit damage may be reduced, in some cases, by rabbit-proof fencing and tree guards, and rabbit numbers reduced by gassing, shooting, killing traps, live capture traps, and ferreting. If snares are to be used to capture foxes or rabbits or other species for control or other reasons, then this should be done using “Best Practice”. Adherence to this Code of Practice will ensure that snares are used to high standards and within the law.
8. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is an offence to set in position any trap or snare for the purpose of killing such a wild animal; relevant species listed in Schedule 6 include badger, polecat, otter, red squirrel, hedgehog, and pine martin. Snaring of protected species (which could include badgers) is not permitted unless the person has been authorized by a specific licence under section 16 of the Act. The Deer Act 1991 makes it an offence to set in position any trap or snare to cause bodily injury to any deer coming into contact with it, or to use any trap or snare for the purpose of killing of any deer.
9. Only free-running snares can lawfully be set. The 1981 Act does not define any self-locking snare and “there has been no successful prosecution within a court high enough to clarify the law by legal precedent.” A free-running snare is a wire loop that continues to tighten by a ratchet action as the animal struggles. However, as there is no clear legal definition of either term, whether a snare is self-locking “essentially becomes a question of fact.” The Code adds: There are snares that could act as either free-running or self-locking depending on how they are set and a free-running snare may in practice act as a self-locking snare if, for example, it becomes rusty or is twisted and kinked by movement of the trapped animal.
10. The Codes emphasize that they should be applied only for restraint of an animal, not as a killing device. In common parlance traps may be used for one or both purposes, as in cages applied as “humane traps”, and – as back-breaking traps familiar in household equipment for dealing with mice and rats. Humane traps may introduce problems with knowing what to do with the trapped animal: release to the wild may be unlawful (and only recently has this possibility been made feasible for grey squirrels – and still with many reservations) and the killing may be done cruelly (eg by drowning or battering). Some veterinary practices may undertake such killing, as with euthanasia of small pets, by injection or render the animal infertile by surgical neutering, with a fair chance of a satisfactory life thereafter (as with feral cats). There are limits to what is feasible with various species with chemical castration, and dislocation (wringing of the neck) is an “acquired skill” and not to be recommended on grounds of doubt that it can be accomplished humanely. We have to remember that great civilized nations still flounder with means of killing prisoners and other human “undesirables” in a seemly way.
11. The Codes state that snares should be set in open sites such as field edges, tramlines, along runs or trails or tracks, such as vehicle tracks where, say, foxes are likely to travel through. They must not be set in sites cluttered by obstacles such as saplings, hedges, walls, fences, or gates, which increase the risk of injury as a result of the snares becoming entangled. This advice is light on warnings that an immobilized captive is open to various attacks as well as injuries from efforts to free itself; moreover, a heavy vehicle or 4x4 could run over the unfortunate entrapped animal.
12. The greater the number of snares in operation, the greater the chances of capturing foxes, but this should be weighed against the greater time necessary to inspect, maintain, and set the snares, and the increased non-target captures. The Codes continue with further advice: For this reason the use of snares is usually concentrated in periods when alternative methods are not viable (eg when vegetation cover prevents shooting) and when the benefits of fox removal are greatest, such as nesting time and when poults are released. Snares must not be set on or near public footpaths, rights of way, near housing and areas regularly used for exercising domestic animals to avoid capturing pets. Snares should not be set in holes through or under fence lines, in gaps through hedges or under gateways, particularly where roe or muntjac deer are present.
13. It is desirable that animals are dealt with as soon as possible after they are caught, state the Codes. During the winter, in order to comply with Best Practice, snares must always be inspected as soon after sunrise as practicable, and should again be inspected near dusk. In summer snares must be inspected before 9am and a further inspection should be conducted in the evening.
14. Ensnared foxes must be killed quickly and humanely by a shot at close range from a rifle, shotgun, or pistol. A .22 rim fire rifle or a shotgun is suitable. Air weapons must not be used, as they are not sufficiently powerful, warn the Codes. The shot should be aimed to the head, because this maximises the chance of immediate and irreversible loss of consciousness. Due care must be taken to avoid the risk of ricochet. However, if the animal is constantly moving, it may be necessary to aim for the heart and immediately follow this up with a shot to the head. Insensibility and death should be confirmed by absence of corneal reflex (failure to blink when the surface of the eye is touched) and absence of breathing. The body must be disposed of responsibly, eg by deep burying (more than a metre). Fencing in free range flocks of commercial poultry is very expensive, so populations of marauding foxes are likely to be killed by lamping and shooting.
15. Just as the standards of farming and food production, on small and large scales require considerations of the land, the soil, and the application of chemical pesticides and the likely residues and metabolites, good husbandry calls for respect for the commensals and other pests (competitors) whose territories and habitats human activities have ravaged. Snares and their usage and consequences are aspects of country life in “our” green and pleasant land that we must never blink. There is much to learn for every rambler who enters this precious domain and is prepared to measure more than his carbon footprint and the full price of the cornucopia of riches we can enjoy while heeding the mayhem we create among those colonies of the other “animals”. Snaring must surely be ousted, like much else of the gamekeepers’, estate owners’, and farmers’ detestable artifices.
See also: Lord Haskins Urges Radical Solutions on the Meat Industry