Alerted by an article in The Mirror newspaper and other sources I watched a short film put together by a group known as the Hunt Investigation Team. This team had been filming covertly on Moscar Estate, a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park owned by the Duke of Rutland, and had put together film of a series of activities by men they described as the estate gamekeepers. (See https://huntinvestigationteam.org/moscar-investigation/ )
The team claimed that there are around 400 snares, presumably set for foxes rather than rabbits or hares, on the estate. This is a huge number of snares to check daily but experience shows that many of these driven grouse moors employ seven or eight gamekeepers, often under the control of a sporting agent rather than the estate owner. Nevertheless I would doubt that every snare is checked within the legal time frame.
The film shows many traps, snares and incidents that most folks would think are illegal, but in fact are legal if used or carried out with the permission of the landowner or agent. Some, though, may well be illegal and the police officers carrying out the investigation will have a much better idea after speaking to the witnesses and viewing the full range of film and photos. At first glance there may be the following offences:
A photograph of a snare set on a track looks suspiciously like an illegal locking snare. It is an old-style snare of the type with an option of two holes which, if the wire is passed through one hole it runs freely, but if it is passed through the alternative hole, the snare locks when tightened. My photographs demonstrate the two positions. With any luck the police will have been made aware and recovered the snares before details went public and the evidence disappeared.
There is a horrific sequence of a badger in a snare being released by a man with a semi-automatic shotgun. He fires two shots right beside the badger’s head to cut the snare. The badger runs off along a path and immediately runs into another snare. This time there are three shots from the shotgun to free it.
While badgers will not be the easiest animals to free from a snare, breaking the snare by shooting it is wild west stuff and certainly not the way to do it. It probably needs two people, one to secure the badger, probably with a forked stick, and the other to cut through the part of the snare that is round the badger’s neck, or slacken the snare and remove it completely. Obtaining proof that the badger in the film eventually ran off with two snares round its neck that are extremely unlikely to ever come off and would ultimately kill the badger would be hard to obtain but this is almost certainly the case. I don’t think this is unusual; I once heard a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association say at a meeting that if he caught a badger he would simply cut the snare and allow the badger to run off and take its chance.
Easier to prove is that the badger is subjected to extreme stress by these shots being set off right beside its head. They would be absolutely deafening and, since the badger is captive and temporarily under the control of man and being subjected to unnecessary suffering, this is likely to be a contravention of Section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If the snares used are locking snares there is little doubt they would kill the badger within a relatively short time.
The team further claim that a badger was shot and buried in a wood. That should be recoverable by the police provided they were informed before the story was made public. A post mortem examination should confirm the cause of death.
Another part of the film shows a jay in a Fenn trap. It seems that the jay is the decoy bird rather than a bird that had been caught in the trap. It is completely illegal to use a jay as a decoy bird in Scotland. I looked at the equivalent general licence that applies to England. The general licence does not include a jay as a decoy species but another current government document includes a jay as a decoy species. I had experience of this type of discrepancy in Scotland years ago in relation to multi-catch corvid cage traps. General licences were issued at that time by two different departments and the content was different. The prosecutor, rightly, did not proceed with the case as it was obvious the accused would claim he was using the document that suited him. The same will be the case with jays in England. I’ll bring this to the attention of Natural England.
The gamekeepers in the film were wearing masks, plus one was wearing nitrile gloves. They were reminiscent of criminals about to carry out an armed robbery. No-one wears a mask unless the intent is to commit a crime. What must decent gamekeepers and their representative organisations think of this film? They must be totally disgusted. Hopefully the estate will get a visit in due course from one of the organisations and if the duke is worthy of the title he’ll get rid of the whole bunch who have brought what I consider unprecedented disgrace to gamekeeping.
If the police manage to put a case to the CPS I’ll watch with interest to see if they and the court accept the covert footage.