Snares: Hidden cruelty in the Scottish countryside

Written by Jennifer Dunn on 14 November 2016 in Comment

Associate feature: The League Against Cruel Sports are again stepping up the fight to make snares illegal

Five years ago, the Scottish Government regulated snares rather than banning them. After a bitterly fought campaign by animal welfare organisations to make the sale, use, manufacture and possession of snares illegal, the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (2011) compelled snare operators to complete training, and tag their traps, which they legally have to check every 24 hours.

So, what’s the issue with snares?

Firstly, how ever they are regulated, snares are inhumane. A snare is a thin wire noose set to restrain an animal perceived as a pest or threat, usually foxes and rabbits. They are intended to catch animals around the neck like a lasso,  but as the animal struggles, the snare restricts and will dig deeper and deeper into its flesh and even bone.

Although they are intended to catch the animal around the neck, often an animal will get caught by a limb or even abdomen resulting in a slow and agonising death.  In a desperate bid to escape animals have chewed off limbs, or been found almost cut in half from struggling.

For the majority of animals who find themselves caught in snares they will die from strangulation, others from predation, exposure to the elements or dehydration.They’re also inherently indiscriminate. Snares are normally set to protect game birds such as grouse or pheasant from predators, particularly foxes. But they can, and frequently do, catch a wide range of non-target species, including Scottish wildcats, mountain hares, badgers, deer, otters and other  wild mammals. Snares also catch domestic animals; injuries inflicted on pet dogs are not unknown, and cats are even more at risk.

Snares are already banned in much of Europe, and anecdotal evidence is that many gamekeepers in Scotland and the UK refuse to use them for the reasons above.

So why campaign now?

The 2011 Act included a provision for the legislation around snares to be reviewed after five years. The Government have commissioned Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to carry out the review.

There are many loopholes in the legislation. There is no provision to remove or update the registers of snare users if they die, change jobs, stop using snares or even if they move house, rendering the register largely pointless.

Our investigative team have also noted that many of the snares set in the countryside do not have tags, and are thus illegal.

24 hours is also a very long period of time for an animal to be held in a snare – apart from there being considerable doubt that every snare is in fact checked as frequently as it should be.

In short, the regulations around snares are unenforceable and incoherent, and the only way to ensure that animals are protected from them is to prevent them from being operated in Scotland.

The Scottish Government review will, however, only consider how well the legislation works, rather than whether a ban should be considered.

However, the League along with our partners OneKind will be stepping up our campaign for a complete ban. We have  commissioned a report, Cruel & Indiscriminate:  Why Scotland must become snare freeon snaring in Scotland, which we’re sending to MSPs. We’re also going to be asking our supporters to contact their parliamentarians to ask them to support our calls to ban snares.

We were at SNP conference recently and were heartened to find that many delegates were completely opposed to snares, and in fact were often horrified to find that the Scottish Government had not banned them already.

Many MSPs, in the SNP, are quiet or overtly of the same mind – and we have very supportive allies in the Greens and Labour.

Over the next few months and weeks, we’ll be campaigning hard and engaging with all MSPs and members of the public, with the aim of helping to persuade the Government that they must not allow snares to be used in the countryside.

We only narrowly lost this battle a few years ago and it is one we are determined to win now.

You can find out more by reading our report or signing up to help our campaign.

Jennifer Dunn is Senior Public Affairs Officer for Scotland at the League Against Cruel Sports​

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