Tunnel traps: professional and unprofessional

Hunt Watch UK photo of tunnel trap with hedgehog

Tunnel trap set legally with restricted entrance

Tunnel trap set legally with entrance restricted by a rock

Legal tunnel trap with entrance restricted by gridweld mesh

On Twitter the other day there was a photograph of a hedgehog caught in a tunnel trap. The photo was taken by Hunt Watch UK and I commented: ‘Completely illegal. Tunnel traps with entrances as wide as this should be reported to the police’.

The following response was posted in relation to my comment: ‘I’m not sure it is ‘completely illegal’ (sadly). The trap shown looks to me like a mk4 Fenn. The below from GWCT and some relevant legislation.’

I agree the trap seems to be a Fenn Mk IV trap and repeat, in part, from one of my earlier posts (11 August 2013):

Hedgehog numbers have plummeted and I am always concerned about them getting caught in tunnel traps that are set ostensibly for stoats, weasels and rats. There is no maximum entrance size to these traps laid down in law. The nearest the legislation comes to that is to state that (at least in Scotland) ‘the traps must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is suitable for minimising the chances of capturing, killing or injuring non-target species whilst not compromising the killing or taking of target species’.

Despite having studied wildlife legislation for many years and written four books on the subject I am still puzzled by the last phrase of the definition.  Most legislation in Scotland is run past various organisations and interested parties before finalising but I can’t say that I saw any of this. Had I seen it I would have been looking for an explanation of what exactly ‘whilst not compromising the killing or taking of target species’ means. I have absolutely no doubt that it will be a ‘get out of jail’ card at the termination of court proceedings in the future.

Because of loose legislation, many tunnel traps are still set with an entrance wide enough that can easily allow an adult hedgehog to gain access. The largest mammal that may be legally caught in the smaller of the traps (Mk IV) is a grey squirrel, while the largest allowed to be caught in the more powerful (Mk VI) trap is a mink. Both are long and narrow and able to squeeze into a narrow entrance that would easily exclude an adult hedgehog. These unprofessionally-set traps with their wide entrances must inevitably catch hedgehogs, even from time to time if not frequently. By their rotund shape, a hedgehog will often be caught by a leg, and will certainly not be killed instantly as should most of the legitimate victims, such as the long and narrow stoat, weasel, rat or grey squirrel that get caught around the body. Further, since legitimate victims will invariably be killed outright, nothing is laid down in legislation that requires these traps (if set properly) to be checked daily as in the manner of snares and live-catch traps. I accept that many trap operators do check their tunnel traps daily, but there will be an equal number who do not. The poor hedgehog, therefore, is sometimes consigned to death by shock, starvation or, worst of all, being eaten alive by maggots.

The comment querying my view quoted part of GWCT’s advice re tunnel traps, which included: ‘It has long been standard advice to restrict the tunnel entrance further by the addition of two sticks at each end, primarily to discourage the entry of small birds’.

I think this is poor advice from GWCT. Sticks pushed into the ground could quite easily be bulldozed aside by a mammal such as a hedgehog, cat, otter, badger, fox, dog and possibly others. GWCT need to revisit this.

The other part of GWCT’s advice quoted was: ‘The use of physical excluders remains discretionary for the tunnel trap operator, who must weigh up the risk of catching a protected non-target against the utility of the trap for its intended purpose’.

Have a look at Hunt Watch UK’s photo. The two sticks are so far apart they are useless in any case as protection against any of the mammals I have listed gaining access, at least by their muzzle or paw. What is not discretionary is that the tunnel trap is only approved to catch the species listed against the particular trap, and that it must be set in a manner that, so far as possible, excludes other species.

In relation to the Mark IV Fenn trap, the Spring Traps Approval (Scotland) Order 2011 states:

The traps are to be used only for the purpose of killing or taking grey squirrels, stoats, weasels, edible dormice (Glis glis), rats and mice.

The traps must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is suitable for minimising the chances of capturing, killing or injuring non-target species whilst not compromising the killing or taking of target species.

In relation to the same trap, the Spring Traps Approval (England) Order 2012 states:

The traps may be used only for the purpose of killing grey squirrels, stoats, weasels, rats, mice and other small ground vermin (except for those species listed in Schedules 5 and 6 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981). (As an aside I hate when legislation perpetuates the use of the term ‘vermin.’)

The traps must be set in natural or artificial tunnels which are, in either case, suitable for the purpose.

So far as is practicable without unreasonably compromising its use for killing or taking target species, the trap must be used in a manner that minimises the likelihood of its killing, taking or injuring non-target species;

I would doubt that under either of these orders there is leeway for an entrance to the tunnel to be anywhere near that shown in Hunt Watch UK’s photograph, which is why I stated from the outset that these traps should be reported to the police.

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