Fox snares, nesting birds and legislation

Fox in snare among trees – risk of fox being fully or partially suspended. (Photo from Somerset County Gazette)

Fox in snare on fence, resulting in it being partially suspended.

Swallow’s nest in outbuilding.

A recent story in the Somerset County Gazette took my interest as a further demonstration of how far behind wildlife legislation is in England and Wales.

Police had been called to the rotting body of a fox in a snare on a fence line adjoining a footpath on a Somerset farm. The group finding the rotting fox also found a live fox in a snare and released it. They had photographed both foxes and the photo of the live snared fox was reproduced in the newspaper, though the paper decided not to publish the image of the rotting fox.

The officer who went investigate the incident was unable to find the decomposing fox or any snares but spoke to the landowner. According to the news report the landowner admitted he had forgotten to remove the dead fox.

Avon and Somerset police have rightly been criticised over the poor investigation. A decomposing carcass immediately suggests that the checking of the snares has not been within the terms of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The lack of knowledge and lack of guile seems to indicate that the officer attending was not a wildlife crime officer. It is doubtful that an officer trained to deal with wildlife crime would have gone to the landowner before again contacting the group who found the foxes and asking better directions. From personal experience it is certainly not always easy to find a location without a grid reference or some focal point to aim for, so there is no shame in quietly pulling out and getting more accurate information.  He also seems to have been unaccompanied, presumably making the admission by the landowner inadmissible in court through lack of corroboration. He is also reported as having reminded the landowner to check his snares every day in future, effectively giving him a warning.

Aside from the police failings in this case there are also government failings. The law relating to the use of snares is woefully behind in England and Wales compared with Scotland. Plugging a glaring gap in the law in Scotland, way back in 2003, arose from us in Tayside finding a snared fox that had clearly been dead for several days. There was no doubt in my mind that the snare operator had not checked his snares over that period, but when interviewed, he claimed that he had checked the snares every day, had found a fox caught, which was dead, and hadn’t bothered removing it.

This was clearly a major loophole in the law which we reported to the Scottish Government. To their credit the legislation was changed the following year and the relevant section relating to the checking of snares now reads:

Section 11B(2)  Any person who while carrying out such an inspection —

  • finds an animal caught by the snare must, during the course of the inspection, release or remove the animal (whether it is alive or dead)

There is also a specific section in the Scottish version of the Act that prohibits snares being set at a place where the animal caught is likely to become fully or partially suspended. This could relate to snares being set on a fence as one of the fox snares in this episode appears to have been, or set among trees (as in the photo in the newspaper), where the animal is likely to become tangled and fully or partially suspended.

Many people would still rather have the use of snares banned but at least the improvements in snaring legislation in Scotland in 2004 and 2011 have resulted in more professionalism by the operators and consequently less suffering by the victims.

Following on from a recent discussion on Twitter about disturbance of nesting birds the law in England and Wales gives far less protection to nesting birds than the law in Scotland. The Wildlife and Countryside Act relating to England and Wales states:

‘if any person intentionally kills, injures or takes any wild bird; takes, damages or destroys a nest whilst in use or being built; or takes / destroys an egg of a wild bird, he shall be guilty of an offence’.

There is also an offence of disturbance to a nesting bird included in Schedule 1 of the Act.

Intent is always much more difficult to prove and it is helpful for investigative purposes that the same section in Scotland states that the disturbance can be intentional or reckless. In addition, the section goes on to state that it is an offence if a person intentionally or recklessly obstructs or prevents any wild bird from using its nest.

I can give two examples that could have constituted offences to nesting birds by preventing them from using their nest. The first related to a kestrel nest in a quarry. There was to be some construction work in the quarry and a birdwatcher was concerned this work would keep the kestrel off its nest. We made enquiries at the time and indeed the work would have caused problems to the bird as it was to be right under the nest site. The farmer knew of the nest but never considered the work would affect the bird. When this was pointed out to him he agreed to begin the work at the far end of the quarry so that by the time he was anywhere near the kestrel nest site the chicks would be fledged.

In the second case, work lasting a whole day was to be done in a small outhouse attached to a house that was being renovated. A neighbour let us know of this intended work, and said she had pointed out the nesting swallows in the shed to the workmen. They said they would work quietly but that would have made no difference as they would have been in the outhouse and would have kept the swallows from feeding their young, which could be seen peeping over the edge of the nest.

We hatched a plan with the neighbour, which kept everyone happy and allowed the birds to be fed.  The men started work just after 0900 and the neighbour took out a tray of tea and scones to the men at 1030, with the men happily agreeing to take a half-hour break away from the outhouse.  They left the outhouse clear between 1200 and 1300 for lunch, and had another tray of tea and buns (and a half hour break) at 1500. The men finished work just after 1600 and everyone was happy with the outcome, with the neighbour reporting that the swallows fledged successfully. There are sometimes routes to success without resorting to prosecution.

There are many examples of where birds have been obstructed or prevented from using their nest. The most common relates to birds that nest under slates or tiles and repairs are carried out that keeps the bird off the nest over a long period, with the result that eggs are chilled or chicks are starved. In a worst case scenario they may be deliberately blocked out of the nest as a result of the work. There is still a bit of work to do to address these shortfalls in legislation in England and Wales.

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Tunnel traps: professional and unprofessional

Hunt Watch UK photo of tunnel trap with hedgehog

Tunnel trap set legally with restricted entrance

Tunnel trap set legally with entrance restricted by a rock

Legal tunnel trap with entrance restricted by gridweld mesh

On Twitter the other day there was a photograph of a hedgehog caught in a tunnel trap. The photo was taken by Hunt Watch UK and I commented: ‘Completely illegal. Tunnel traps with entrances as wide as this should be reported to the police’.

The following response was posted in relation to my comment: ‘I’m not sure it is ‘completely illegal’ (sadly). The trap shown looks to me like a mk4 Fenn. The below from GWCT and some relevant legislation.’

I agree the trap seems to be a Fenn Mk IV trap and repeat, in part, from one of my earlier posts (11 August 2013):

Hedgehog numbers have plummeted and I am always concerned about them getting caught in tunnel traps that are set ostensibly for stoats, weasels and rats. There is no maximum entrance size to these traps laid down in law. The nearest the legislation comes to that is to state that (at least in Scotland) ‘the traps must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is suitable for minimising the chances of capturing, killing or injuring non-target species whilst not compromising the killing or taking of target species’.

Despite having studied wildlife legislation for many years and written four books on the subject I am still puzzled by the last phrase of the definition.  Most legislation in Scotland is run past various organisations and interested parties before finalising but I can’t say that I saw any of this. Had I seen it I would have been looking for an explanation of what exactly ‘whilst not compromising the killing or taking of target species’ means. I have absolutely no doubt that it will be a ‘get out of jail’ card at the termination of court proceedings in the future.

Because of loose legislation, many tunnel traps are still set with an entrance wide enough that can easily allow an adult hedgehog to gain access. The largest mammal that may be legally caught in the smaller of the traps (Mk IV) is a grey squirrel, while the largest allowed to be caught in the more powerful (Mk VI) trap is a mink. Both are long and narrow and able to squeeze into a narrow entrance that would easily exclude an adult hedgehog. These unprofessionally-set traps with their wide entrances must inevitably catch hedgehogs, even from time to time if not frequently. By their rotund shape, a hedgehog will often be caught by a leg, and will certainly not be killed instantly as should most of the legitimate victims, such as the long and narrow stoat, weasel, rat or grey squirrel that get caught around the body. Further, since legitimate victims will invariably be killed outright, nothing is laid down in legislation that requires these traps (if set properly) to be checked daily as in the manner of snares and live-catch traps. I accept that many trap operators do check their tunnel traps daily, but there will be an equal number who do not. The poor hedgehog, therefore, is sometimes consigned to death by shock, starvation or, worst of all, being eaten alive by maggots.

The comment querying my view quoted part of GWCT’s advice re tunnel traps, which included: ‘It has long been standard advice to restrict the tunnel entrance further by the addition of two sticks at each end, primarily to discourage the entry of small birds’.

I think this is poor advice from GWCT. Sticks pushed into the ground could quite easily be bulldozed aside by a mammal such as a hedgehog, cat, otter, badger, fox, dog and possibly others. GWCT need to revisit this.

The other part of GWCT’s advice quoted was: ‘The use of physical excluders remains discretionary for the tunnel trap operator, who must weigh up the risk of catching a protected non-target against the utility of the trap for its intended purpose’.

Have a look at Hunt Watch UK’s photo. The two sticks are so far apart they are useless in any case as protection against any of the mammals I have listed gaining access, at least by their muzzle or paw. What is not discretionary is that the tunnel trap is only approved to catch the species listed against the particular trap, and that it must be set in a manner that, so far as possible, excludes other species.

In relation to the Mark IV Fenn trap, the Spring Traps Approval (Scotland) Order 2011 states:

The traps are to be used only for the purpose of killing or taking grey squirrels, stoats, weasels, edible dormice (Glis glis), rats and mice.

The traps must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is suitable for minimising the chances of capturing, killing or injuring non-target species whilst not compromising the killing or taking of target species.

In relation to the same trap, the Spring Traps Approval (England) Order 2012 states:

The traps may be used only for the purpose of killing grey squirrels, stoats, weasels, rats, mice and other small ground vermin (except for those species listed in Schedules 5 and 6 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981). (As an aside I hate when legislation perpetuates the use of the term ‘vermin.’)

The traps must be set in natural or artificial tunnels which are, in either case, suitable for the purpose.

So far as is practicable without unreasonably compromising its use for killing or taking target species, the trap must be used in a manner that minimises the likelihood of its killing, taking or injuring non-target species;

I would doubt that under either of these orders there is leeway for an entrance to the tunnel to be anywhere near that shown in Hunt Watch UK’s photograph, which is why I stated from the outset that these traps should be reported to the police.

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Bookshops stocking Killing by Proxy: wildlife crime in the UK today

Killing by Proxy: wildlife crime in the UK today. Alan Stewart

I have had a great response from independent booksellers, as well as from some of the chain stores, to stock my book, Killing by Proxy. I have thoroughly enjoyed the chat with some of the shop owners and staff and have learned much about the selling of books during the process. The shops in Scotland and England stocking Killing by Proxy are listed below (I may yet have some from Wales to add to the list). I’d be pleased if you can give them some trade, though a signed copy can still be obtained by emailing me on wildlifedetective@gmail.com

SCOTLAND

The Watermill, Mill Street, Aberfeldy, Perthshire, PH15 2BG

The Bookmark, 34 High St, Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire PH26 3EH

MacGillivray & Co, Balivanich, Isle of Benbecula, Outer Hebrides
HS7 5LA           

J & G Innes, 107 South Street, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9QW                   

Bookpoint, 2A Ferry Brae, Dunoon, Argyll PA23 7DJ                               

Inkspot and Silverleaf, 76/78 South Street, Bo’ness EH51 9HA                

Stromness Books and Prints, 1 Graham Place, Stromness, Orkney KW16 3BY  

Atkinson-Price Books 27 High St, Biggar ML12 6DA                          

Far from the Madding Crowd, Linlithgow Bookshop, 20 High Street, Linlithgow, West Lothian EH49 7AE  

Forest Bookstore, 26 Market Place, Selkirk, Scottish Borders TD7 4BL  

Yeadons of Elgin, 32 Commerce Street, Elgin, Moray IV30 1BS                                                            

Yeadons of Banchory, 20 Dee Street, Banchory, Aberdeenshire AB31 5ST 

Lighthouse Books 43 West Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DB 

Ceilidh Place Bookshop, 14 West Argyle Street, Ullapool IV26 2TY 

Waterstones, King Edward Street, Perth  PH1 5UX

Waterstones 12 George Street Oban PA34 5SB

Birnam Arts, Station Road Birnam Perthshire PH8 0DS

SWT Loch of the Lowes Visitor Centre, Dunkeld Perthshire PH8 0HH

Gloagburn Farm Shop, Tibbermore, Perth PH1 1QL   

Blackwell, 53-62 South Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1YS

The Edinburgh Bookshop, 219 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh, EH10 4DH

 

ENGLAND

Blackwell Bookshop, 50 Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BQ   

Castlegate Books, Unit 3, 13 Market Place, Knaresborough, HG5 8AL

Guisborough Bookshop, 4 Chaloner Street, Guisborough, North Yorkshire TS14 6QD

P&G Wells Ltd, 11 College Street, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 9LZ

Whitby Bookshop, 88 Church Street, Whitby, North Yorkshire YO22 4BH, 01947 606202  

Pemberley Books 18 Bathurst Walk, Iver, Buckinghamshire, SL0 9AZ  

Fred Holdsworth Bookshops, Central Buildings, Ambleside, LA22 9BS.  

The Bookshop, Bank House, 22 Market Street, Kirkby Stephen, CA17 4QT  

The Dales Book Centre, 33 Main Street Grassington, Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 5AA   

The Holt Bookshop, Unit 10, Apple Yard, Holt NR25 6AR  

Nantwich Bookshop 46 High Street, Nantwich, Cheshire CW5 5AS  

Book, Bean and Ice Cream 61 Poulton Street, Kirkham, Lancashire, PR4 2AJ  

The Book Case, Market Street, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, HX7 6EU

News from Nowhere 96 Bold Street Liverpool L1 4HY   

White Horse Bookshop 136 High Street Marlborough Wiltshire SN8 1HN  

Gerrards Cross Bookshop 12a Packhorse Road, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire SL9 7QE,  

Hoppers. 48-56 Market Place, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 7LW    

Warwick Books 24 Market Place, Warwick, Warwickshire CV34 4SL    

Book Shop 14 South Street, Bridport, Dorset DT6 3NQ   

Gullivers Bookshop 47 High Street, Wimborne Minster, Dorset BH21 1HS

NHBS Ltd, 1-6 The Stables, Ford Road Totnes, Devon, TQ9 5LE

Scarthin Books The Promenade Matlock  DE4 3QF  

Wildsounds, Cross Street, Salthouse, Norfolk, NR25 7XH 

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Botham’s baloney

Fledgling hen harrier about to be ringed

So ex-cricketer Ian Botham wants to protect hen harriers and said in an interview with the Sunday Herald that:

“If (the RSPB) really wants to help these birds, I recommend that it experiments with putting gamekeepers in charge of its reserves.”

The methods of helping the harriers, as outlined in the article by Botham, revolve around controlling predators. He mentions foxes as predators, which no doubt is true. But harrier predators may also be badgers, pine martens, stoats, weasels, crows, gulls and some other raptors. Would they also be controlled?

Botham’s concept of conservation is sadly lacking. Harriers don’t need any of these species to be controlled for their survival rate to be improved; they either just need left alone or their human predators need to be controlled. Either method would result in many more hen harriers in the UK within a few years.

I really don’t know why Botham spouts forth about conservation. He puts his foot in it every time.  With the Sunday Herald article nobody with any knowledge of ecology, ecosystems or natural balance would agree with any of the guff he is quoted as spouting. I suspect he just does so to try to wind up the RSPB but it invariably makes him look a fool.

I’ve no idea how good a cricketer he was since I don’t watch cricket, but if he was good at it then that’s what he should stick with. Some gamekeepers are indeed successful in creating conservation benefits but Botham is certainly not cogent at putting forward that argument.

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Letter (and book) to Michael Gove MP – ‘In hope’

Killing by Proxy: wildlife crime in the UK today. Alan Stewart

One of the first people to buy my new book offered to buy another if I sent it to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment in the Westminster Parliament. This suggestion was also made independently by my daughters.

I have taken up the gauntlet, signed a book ‘In Hope’, and this will be in the post on Monday morning. It will be accompanied by the following letter, which I will also email in advance.

If it makes a difference then most of us will be pleased.

 

Michael Gove MP                                                                            House of  Commons                                                                                                                                             London     SW1A 0AA

15 January 2018

 

New Publication – Killing by Proxy: wildlife crime in the UK today

Dear Mr Gove

As a countryman, former shooting person, retired police officer, wildlife crime officer and intelligence officer I have been bitterly disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm from the Westminster Government to enact meaningful legislation that has a chance of curbing the volume of crime committed against our wildlife. This is particularly so against protected species on driven grouse moors.

As an author, in my ‘retirement,’ of books on wildlife crime I am posting off my latest book to you – Killing by Proxy: wildlife crime in the UK today. If you can make time to read the book it gives a snapshot of some of the worst of our wildlife crime taking place in ‘civilised’ UK over the past three or four years. If you can even scan through the book could I draw your attention to the following:

Pages 23 – 25: The disgrace of fox cubs being kept in captivity for fox hunting and in one case believed to be have been fed live to hounds

Pages 114 – 117: Introduction to the principal chapter, Driven Grouse Shooting, ‘a business underpinned by criminality’

Pages 137 – 139: ‘Vaporised’ golden eagles. Though this is a Scottish issue it demonstrates a much more determined approach by your counterpart in Scotland to deal with this type of crime.

Pages 150 – 151: Five missing hen harriers

Pages 159 – 169 – Missing hen harriers and abandoned raptor persecution cases. Though these incidents took pace in Scotland there is similar reluctance by prosecutors and courts in England to accept covert video evidence

Pages 172 – 177: A further demonstration of the difficulties with covert video evidence, this time in England.

Pages 189 – 192: My written evidence to the Westminster Enquiry on driven grouse shooting

Pages 195 – 197: The oral evidence to the Westminster Enquiry. This was a disgraceful sham and most certainly did not reflect democratic process nor take account of the views of the 123,000 signatories to Dr Mark Avery’s petition.

Pages 210 – 2014: ‘Pest control’ practices filmed in the Peak District National Park, during which a man, probably a gamekeeper, fired several shots from a shotgun right beside a snared badger’s ear in a botched attempt to cut the snare.

Page 219 onwards: The last chapter, The Future, with suggestions for both the Scottish Government and the Westminster Government to make a difference through meaningful legislation.

Though I have had little faith in the Westminster Government up until now, can I congratulate you on the promising start you have made with environmental matters since you joined the Cabinet. Can you please now do the same to tackle crimes committed against our wildlife.

Yours sincerely

Alan Stewart

 

Signed copies of my books are available by emailing me at the email address on my blog at https://wildlifedetective.wordpress.com/books/

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Heads up for Harriers: a good or bad initiative?

Hen harrier chicks at a nest

The bronze golden eagle awarded as the prize for best project in the category Understanding the Natural Heritage (my dogs in the background were not part of the award).

I listened at 0630 this (Saturday) morning to the first item on BBC Scotland radio Out of Doors in which Professor Des Thompson was interviewed by Euan McIlwraith on the Heads up for Harriers project. This project, initiated about four years ago by PAW Scotland and led by Des is two-pronged. Firstly, it encourages people to report sightings of hen harriers, by phone to 07767 671973, or email to: HenHarrier@snh.gov.uk Secondly, and somewhat controversially, it encourages estates to allow cameras to be placed near hen harrier nests to record the outcome, whether that be successful fledging, predation by fox or crow or by natural causes, such as by extreme weather. Human persecution is unlikely to feature as no-one is going to interfere with a nest if they are aware they are being filmed. Partners in the project include SNH, Scottish Land and Estates (SLE), RSPB, Scottish Raptor Study Groups (SRSG).

Despite some estates being difficult to persuade, in 2017 over 20 estates took part, resulting in the successful fledging of 37 young hen harriers from seven of these estates. No information was given in the interview of how many of these estates were driven grouse moors, though reading between the lines there are few or none. Des said that he was not being naïve and there were some estates the group would like to see becoming involved, though they have not yet come forward.

While I see considerable benefit in this project, it would be really helpful if the participating estates could be published. This would reward them in some way for their efforts. It may also shame others into taking part.

What am I saying? There is no way that some estates could be shamed into doing (or not doing) anything that does not suit them. Unless there has been a serious change in the policy of most driven grouse moors they simply do not want hen harriers. Neither do they want people walking over the estate looking for displaying or nesting harriers, or seeing anything else that the estate would rather was unseen.

I have twice before been involved with projects to raise awareness of the persecution of hen harriers. In 1997 Tayside Police developed a project whereby I, as the force wildlife crime officer and Constables Graham Jack and Bob Noble, two of the divisional wildlife crime officers, co-opted a couple of rural schools with smallish classes (Amulree and Kirkmichael) to undertake a hen harrier project in which they would study, draw and write about hen harriers. Graham and I also approached a number of estates with the potential for breeding hen harriers. Twelve estates agreed to take part and Graham and I spent several days, under licence from SNH and with assistance from RSPB Scotland, looking for nests, especially one to which – again under licence – we could take the school classes.

We found a suitable nest near to each school and when the chicks were well fledged, took the pupils for a quick and quiet visit. BBC Countryfile also became involved, as did Grampian Television, who later filmed the fledglings being ringed. The project raised the issue of hen harrier persecution considerably, the participating estates got some kudos and the SNH/Grampian TV/Shell UK award that the project won in the category of Understanding the Natural Heritage was an unexpected bonus.

In 2004 the UK police forces developed Operation Artemis, where upland estate owners were asked to sign a pledge that they would respect the law in relation to hen harriers. There was no legal obligation to do so but for law-abiding folks this was assumed to be fairly straightforward. Each was visited by a wildlife crime officer but the results were devastating. From memory I think most in Wales agreed to do so, about 30% in Scotland agreed but there was total rejection in the north of England.

Returning to the present project, Heads up for Harriers, while it has merit it should certainly not be seen to be letting driven grouse moors off the hook (and in no way did Des imply this in his interview), nor should it be seen as a lessening in criminality that kicks licensing into the long grass. That cannot be done until all estates agree to participate and harrier numbers are at a level that accords with a natural predator/prey relationship.

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Some thoughts on wildlife crime and legislation for 2018

Red grouse on moorland

Well I wonder what difference 2018 will make to wildlife crime. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a change of governing party at Westminster. Potentially this could make a big difference to making life more risky for wildlife criminals but the unfortunate fact is that so much time will need to be spent on the complete muck-up of Brexit that there might be little time for much else. Nevertheless with a change of government some ideas may begin to form.

With the law as it is now I don’t see hen harriers and some other protected species being allowed to survive on many (maybe even most?) of our driven grouse moors. Quite simply their presence, especially when feeding chicks, poses a threat, real or perceived, to the number of grouse chicks that can survive to be shot. They will just not be tolerated. Without a monumental change of attitude no progress can be made.

As an aside there was an interesting comment on Mark Avery’s review of my book Killing by Proxy. This came from a Tayside man with raptor interests, Mike Groves. Mike said,

Afraid that I can’t agree with Alan’s general introduction comment in his latest book ‘On driven grouse moors there is little evidence of change”. I can speak with regards to vast knowledge/experience of raptor monitoring in the Angus Glens and can safely state that he has obviously lost touch with this area completely since his retirement several years back. Surely recognition of these dramatic raptor turnarounds in several areas of the Angus Glens should be highlighted as a positive and welcome step forward rather than living in the past and constantly dragging up past historical persecution?

Much of the book content originates from media releases of wildlife crimes, most of which relate to grouse moors in Scotland and the north of England, hence little evidence of change. So far as the Angus Glens are concerned some of the incidents also relate to that area. I have also acknowledged in the book that some of the estates in the Angus Glens had – and still have – an excellent record of diverse wildlife, including raptors. Maybe these are the ones alluded to. If rogue estates have changed, maybe Mike should have identified them and listed the raptors successfully nesting there.

Returning to change for the better in 2018 I don’t see driven grouse shooting being banned, even with the force of well over 100,000 signatories and a change of Westminster Government. I foresee licensing being agreed by the Scottish Government by the end of 2018, which might instil confidence in Westminster to do likewise. This is not a perfect solution but is a big step in the right direction. Of course the effect of cryptosporidiosis might supersede the need for licensing if this disease begins to kill large numbers of grouse and driven grouse shooting becomes uneconomical.

A complete update of the Wildlife and Countryside Act is required in England and Wales, including the incorporation of vicarious liability. Having been part of a group working on changes to the law in Scotland which were enacted in 2003 and 2004 I know that this is more than a year’s worth of work. If the Westminster Government started the ball rolling in 2018 it could be enacted by 2020.

Scotland is well on the way to making the hunting of wild mammals with dogs enforceable, and I have already submitted some thoughts to the public consultation due to conclude this month. There is currently a petition to totally ban fox hunting, which I don’t think will happen, but if the various recommendations submitted by Lord Bonomy are accepted and enacted in 2018 this will make a substantial difference to enforcement (and preventing deviation from the law) in Scotland.

England and Wales are years behind with this thorny issue. Evidence recently of hounds hunting through gardens and cemeteries clearly show they are not following a trail as in drag hunting but are hunting a fox. The present Westminster Government have backtracked on their intent to get rid of the Hunting Act, but even with a change of government I don’t see any progress here over the forthcoming year.

The law in relation to the snaring of foxes has improved considerably in Scotland since new legislation in 2004 and 2011 set out circumstances in which snares could not be set, and forced every person using snares to be trained and to acquire a registered number from the police to be attached to every snare. Making people more accountable for their actions certainly works. I can see similar conditions being written in to an improved Wildlife and Countryside Act in England and Wales, though this is likely to take a few years.

I don’t see the use of snares being banned in any part of the UK, but there should be a ban on the use of snares that are not break-away snares. These snares open if a mammal of greater weight than a fox is caught and allow the animal to run free without any part of the snare remaining attached to it. This urgent requirement was strongly reinforced at the sight of a masked man, probably a gamekeeper, filmed covertly trying to shoot a snare off a badger on an estate in England during 2017 by firing several deafening shots, close to the badger’s ear, in a failed effort to break the snare. He eventually returned with a spade and cut through the snare, allowing the badger to run off with not one but two snares round its neck. The use of the shotgun would probably have caused ear canal damage to the animal and the snares still on its neck would most likely cause it a slow death by starvation. This is one of the most barbaric acts of animal cruelty I have seen.

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