Earlier today I read an RSPB news release to the effect that another wildlife crime on a grouse moor was being investigated. On a driven grouse moor named as Invercauld by the chief executive officer of the Cairngorms National Park, within whose boundaries the estate lies, a common gull was found with each of its legs caught in illegally-set spring traps. A dead rabbit had been used as bait.
In summary, two hill walkers had found the gull struggling in the traps, SSPCA had attended initially and had euthanised the gull, and later Police Scotland, assisted by SSPCA and RSPB Investigations had carried out a search of the moorland area. Evidence was found that six other traps had been set with dead rabbits as bait but by then had been removed. It is unfortunate the other traps had disappeared as the police may well have gained DNA evidence leading to the criminal.
I suspect that spring traps such as these, legal if set in a tunnel where the entrance is restricted to small mammals such as stoats, rats and weasels, are much more commonly abused than we realise. Until the point that they catch a victim they are extremely difficult to see. In this case, on a grouse moor, it is likely they had been set for some species of raptor, but of course they are completely indiscriminate.
In 2010, as wildlife crime officer in Tayside, in my last dealings with spring traps set in the open they had been set round the perimeter of pheasant release pens in Angus. Several illegal snares were also set in the same area and in due course we charged the gamekeeper. He pled guilty to the snaring offences but denied responsibility for the traps, despite the fact they were round a pheasant pen to which he was attending. In due course he was fined, though I forget the level of fine.
In the photographs of this incident the reader will realise just how difficult it is to spot these traps, especially if they have not been encountered before.
Returning to the Aberdeenshire incident it has been widely condemned. Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms National Park said,
“It is appalling that spring traps have been illegally set resulting in the death of a common gull. The law on the use of traps is clear and it is simply unacceptable for them to be used in this way. I have this morning asked for a meeting with the Head Trustee of Invercauld Estate and with the Sporting Partner to discuss these issues. I have also written to Police Scotland and other public sector partners to ask for a meeting to discuss resourcing further enforcement work in the National Park to tackle these type of issues.”
Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, and Chair of PAW Scotland, said:
“All forms of wildlife crime are unacceptable and I condemn the illegal use of spring traps wherever it takes place. In Deeside, the use of them has resulted in tremendous suffering for a gull which had to be euthanised. It is difficult to see their use as anything other than a blatant and criminal attempt to target protected birds of prey. The Scottish Government takes this issue extremely seriously and I urge anyone with any information about criminal activity intending to harm our wildlife to contact Police Scotland.”
The Scottish Government has several times stated that if necessary it would take further action to stop criminal activity on sporting estates. My view is that the time has come, and that there is a clear choice between banning driven grouse shooting and licensing game shooting.
If ever an industry was suicidal ……