I visited an excellent blog the other day, Upland Exposure, the purpose of which is to expose bad land management in the Scottish uplands. It is written by ‘a couple of Scots who have lived and worked in the Uplands of Scotland for (collectively) 90+ years. We are both employed in land management in the uplands so get to see first-hand what goes on.’ It is extremely well written, well illustrated, covers some relevant issues and, at least so far, does not have comments written by ill-informed or extremely biased people.
One of the issues relates to foxes being caught in snares attached to a fence on a Scottish estate. Since I was so impressed by the blog I thought I would write a complementary article to help folks walking in the countryside to identify illegally-set snares and outline what action they can take. Firstly I should state that if properly set and checked, snares for foxes, rabbits and hares are legal and should not be interfered with.
The law in relation to the use of snares was made much more strict, at least in Scotland, in 2011. Basically anyone setting a snare:
- Must have permission to do so
- Must have attended and passed a training course and received an accreditation certificate
- Must have received a personal identification number from Police Scotland which must be attached to each snare in a weatherproof format, and show with the letter F, BH or R whether the snare is set for fox, brown hare or rabbit. (There are other admin requirements that are for policing purposes and are not relevant for the purposes of this article).
- In the case of fox snares, they must have a stop fitted to prevent the snare closing to less than 23 cm (13 cm in the case of snares for rabbits or brown hares).
- Must not set a snare attached to an item that can be dragged (which means any distance, short or long)
- Must not set a snare where the animal is likely to become fully or partially suspended or drown
- Must inspect the snare every day at intervals of not more than 24 hours
- Must ensure the snare is free-running
- At each inspection must remove any animal caught, whether live or dead
All of these requirements are quite clear, but it does not mean that a snare may never be set on or under a fence; the test is whether any victim of the snare is likely to become fully or partially suspended. It is perfectly possible on some netting fences to set a snare where there is nothing on which the victim can become entangled, no holes for it to jump through and reduce the length of the snare causing partial suspension, or no possibility of the fox jumping over the fence and hanging down on the other side.
Any suspected snaring offence should be reported to the police. Dialling 101 is sufficient unless there is a case of urgency, when 999 would be appropriate. If you can speak to a wildlife crime officer that is even better as he/she may be able to determine right away if what you are describing is legal or otherwise. Taking photographs, a video and a map reference would be a great help to the investigating officers. It is also helpful for the officers responding to have some sort of landmark, if there is one, to guide them. I can speak from experience that trying to follow someone’s directions on open moorland is not always easy. If there is a suspect, a description of age, build, height, hair colour and clothing worn are all details of great value. Vehicle details, if available, are also extremely helpful, especially if a registration number can be noted
The place where a bird or mammal has been deliberately killed, injured or illegally trapped is a crime scene, and great care should be taken not to tramp about and destroy any item that may provide DNA, or stand on sole or tyre impressions that might be suitable for the police to photograph or cast in plaster.
Bear in mind that if a suspect is aware that his crime has been witnessed, he is likely to take steps to eliminate evidence or to make its retrieval more difficult. Witnesses should not normally remove evidence, as it is much better left in situ for the police to photograph and recover. If these circumstances arise and you can make contact with the police from the scene, be guided by them.
If there is a live animal in the snare again you could be guided by the police as to the action to take. If the snare appears to be set illegally then the police are likely to want an inspector of the SSPCA (or RSPCA in England or Wales) to attend to assist, especially if the animal will have to be euthanased. If the snare is set legally and the animal caught is not injured the police may want the person who set the snare to come and deal with it. You may be able to assist in this by quoting the tag number on the snare if it is safe to do so.
Be aware that in Scotland for a person to be convicted normally two sources of evidence are required (though as earlier stated this situation is being examined and may change). These may be two eye witnesses, which is the easiest form of corroboration. It could also be one eyewitness and some other form of corroboration, such as the finding of particular items in the suspect’s possession or his admission of the crime. A case can also be built purely from circumstantial evidence, though this is by far the most difficult form of evidence to obtain.
Upland Exposure can be found at http://www.uplandexposure.co.uk/