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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