The Scottish government is considering the future use of snares. It has approached a range of fieldsports groups for their views.
However, the Scottish Countryside Alliance is concerned that the consultation on snaring could be the first step to it being banned.
Currently, you need Scottish government ‘accreditation’ to use snares in Scotland. Under the rules, snares set for foxes, rabbits or brown hares must carry a tag bearing the identification number and showing which of the animals it is intended to catch.
Jake Swindells from the Scottish Countryside Alliance says the Scottish Government has animal welfare in mind in any land management situation. As with the Hunting with Dogs bill, he says, “the Scottish Government is coming under pressure where snaring animal welfare is concerned. So, this is why they have commissioned this assessment into snaring to see if it’s a viable option and to see whether it should continue.”
Jake says it is vital that land managers and gamekeepers are allowed to keep snaring as it is useful in specific situations. He says snares can operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whereas land managers, farmers or gamekeepers can’t.
Land managers use snares all over Britain. In Scotland, the government introduced an accreditation system for snares in 2012. Jake was involved in the technical assessment group with other organisations throughout Scotland which advises the Scottish Government about welfare issues. It ensured that the equipment and the processes used are at the highest possible standards.
Jake says the Scottish snaring accreditation system means snaring is effectively used under licence. He says: “You have to pass a course, you have to pass a written exam and a practical test. It’s important to remember that snaring is a tool that can be utilised as part of a wider landscape management project, as well as shooting, lamping and hunting with dogs.”
Snaring has developed over the years. Since 2012, when the new legislation came into force in Scotland, the snares are holding devices not killing devices. Jake says that the legislation means they are checked at least once in every 24-hour period. Welfare of the animal is now a priority.
Geoff Garrod of the National Gamekeepers Organisation says there has been a huge development in snares, which has seen them evolve into a holding tool. He says they hold an animal until a gamekeeper can despatch it. He says: “There have been lots of studies and trials over the years to come up with this design. We need to keep using them and we need to be right with what we’re using. The finished article that we have now today basically takes any risk of any non-target species being in a snare.”
He says it’s important farmers and land managers keep up to date with the latest holding devices and the regulations for using them. He advises people to take a course run by the NGO or other similar body. He says snares are especially useful in controlling foxes, safeguarding lambs and piglets. “If you want to protect the countryside and manage conservation, you have to control things,” he says.
Jakes agrees that snaring in Scotland is vital for a variety of reasons: firstly, for the protection of livestock, especially in lambing times in spring, when it’s important for farmers to be able to protect the livestock, and secondly for animal welfare reasons and also for the livelihoods of land managers.
Jake says the Scottish Government has ploughed millions of pounds of public money into conservation which could be undermined if snaring
is banned. He says many landowners and managers have spent money and time on the issue because they’re passionate about conservation. “Snaring must be used as it’s part of a bigger picture,” he says.
Jake fears that red-listed species such as curlew and capercaillie will all suffer from increased predation despite the hard work that has been done to try to recover them. He hopes the government won’t remove this vital tool from farmers and gamekeepers. He says: “The Scottish government is just chipping away at rural management and it’s making life much harder to be able to look after the animals that we need to. We’ve got an obligation to try to protect species like the curlew, like the capercaillie, and it’s going to be very, very hard to do that.”
Snaring isn’t just used for predators it’s also used for rabbits and brown hares. Jake says six rabbits eat as much as one sheep in a day. He says: “Grass is a valuable crop and it’s vitally important for farmers to be able to protect that crop. If we lose snaring, then we lose an awful lot more.”
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, laws such as the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act and the 1985 Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order impose conditions for the use of snares. They allow for their use to catch animals for conservation but prohibit them being used to catch species
Currently protected animals at risk of capture in fox snares include badger, wild cat, pine marten, otter, polecat and hedgehog. The 1991 Deer Act and the 1996 Deer (Scotland) Act make it illegal to use of snares for deer.
As well as the laws, DEFRA produces separate codes of practice on the use of snares in England and Wales.
Jake says illegal snaring isn’t a major problem in Scotland. He says some of the problems with snares can occur if antis tamper with them.
He says: “It’s very important to recognise that there are those people out there who still tamper with snares. They tamper with legally set snares and often report them to police, as well as damaging snares and removing them. Despite the fact it is a perfectly legal practice to use snares.”
BASC, GWCT NGO,SCA, a range of other countryside groups, vets and animal welfare specialists advised DEFRA on creating codes of practice for the different countries.