I see in my local newspaper today that fly larvae have been aged by the Natural History Museum in London, allowing a successful prosecution against a gamekeeper for snaring offences. A badger had been caught in the snare, set in Aberdeenshire. The gamekeeper admitted at Aberdeen Sheriff Court that he had not checked the snare within the required period – at least once every day at intervals of not more than 24 hours – and had also failed to fit to the snare a tag with his identification number issued by Police Scotland. He was fined £600.
Science, in this case entomology, is being used more and more in wildlife crime cases. My first recollection of the aging of maggots took place about 15 years ago in a case near Callander in the west of Perthshire. A farmer was investigated by the then Central Scotland Police wildlife crime officer for failing to check a snare within the timescale set out by legislation. In this case it was again a badger that had been caught and the blowfly maggots were aged by entomologists at Stirling University, which showed that they were – if I remember correctly – at least three days old, meaning that was the minimum period of time that the badger had been in the snare.
When I was wildlife crime officer with Tayside Police I tried an innovative ‘home grown’ method of determining how long a dead fox had been in a snare. There were no maggots on the fox as we were into late autumn but the grass under the fox was yellowing through loss of chlorophyll. I photographed the grass then set out ten short planks of wood on my lawn at home, turning one over every day until I reached the stage when the grass began to lose its chlorophyll. This took four or five days and matched the estimation by the veterinary pathologist of the period of time the fox had been dead.
There is no question that professionalism in snaring has improved considerably since legislation was updated in 2004 and again in 2011, but unfortunately there remain people using snares who disregard the law. Snaring is a legitimate method of catching foxes, but in both of the above cases not only has the law been ignored by the users but a protected animal has been the victim. Snaring must be on the slippery slope unless more peer pressure is exercised on gamekeepers and others using snares.