The use of clam traps in England

Home-made and extremely powerful clam trap set in a woodland. The gamekeeper who set it admitted it was to catch a buzzard.

The trap photographed by the Hunt Investigation Team in the Peak District

I looked at a photo put on Twitter this morning by the Hunt Investigation Team. It was a clam or Larsen mate trap set with a pheasant carcass as bait. The caption was ‘Here is another clam trap, baited with carrion by a grouse moor gamekeeper, in an area populated by buzzards in the Peak District’.

The use of these traps, also known as Larsen mate traps, is permitted in Scotland only under specific conditions and following a year-long trial to see whether or not they would catch non-target species. I have always been doubtful about these traps, especially since the ones I was involved with before retirement were clearly set for buzzards. The trap resembles a clam and the principle is that a bird lands on the perch to get to the bait, causing the two sides of the clam to spring shut and trap the bird inside. For a big bird such as a buzzard this was likely to mean that it could be caught with its wings up in the air and sticking out of the top of the trap. The trial showed that, while this could happen, manufacturing the trap so that its two sides did not close completely would allow the bird to retract its wings.

During the period of the trial the traps were allowed to be used but only with bait of bread or eggs, which would still attract crows but much less likely to attract raptors. Since the beginning of 2017 the traps were then permitted to be used with a meat bait but the operators have to provide to Scottish Natural Heritage Licencing Section their names and contact details, the number and types of traps used and the area in which they will be used.

I wondered then what the legal position was in England, where this trap was alleged to have been used.

The general licence for England made no reference to any trap other than, generically, to a cage trap. Cage traps come in different sizes and designs, but the licence does not even define or describe any of those. I have found over the years that good clear definitions within legislation makes a world of difference. Could a Larsen mate or clam trap be said to be a cage trap? I would doubt it. I think the prosecution may be able to argue that it is a spring trap, and that its use would fall within the terms of Section 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, this being, (in Scotland) :

Prohibition of certain methods of killing or taking wild birds.

5.–(1)   Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person–

(a)        sets in position any of the following articles, being an article which is of such a nature and is so placed as to be likely to cause bodily injury to any wild bird coming into contact therewith, that is to say, any springe, trap, gin, snare, hook and line, any electrical device for killing, stunning or frightening or any poisonous, poisoned or stupefying substance;

(b)       uses for the purpose of killing or taking any wild bird any such article as aforesaid, whether or not of such a nature and so placed as aforesaid, or any net, baited board, bird-lime or substance of a like nature to bird-lime;

Clam traps being included in the general licence in Scotland, of course, derogates from the terms of the legislation.

But the equivalent section for England weakens any prosecution argument by the use of a term much more difficult to prove: ‘calculated’

5.-(1)  Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person—

(a)         sets in position any of the following articles, being an article which is of such a nature and is so placed as to be calculated to cause bodily injury to any wild bird coming into contact therewith, that is to say, any springe, trap, gin, snare, hook and line, any electrical device for killing, stunning or frightening or any poisonous, poisoned or stupefying substance;

This is yet another example of where wildlife legislation covering England is weak and full of loopholes that can allow a suspect an easy escape route.

While it does not seem that the use of Larsen mate traps is legal in England I telephoned the licensing telephone number to ask their advice. The girl I spoke to had clearly never heard of a Larsen mate or a clam trap. She took my details and said she would make enquiries and phone me back. It must have been a tricky puzzle as by the end of the day I had not had a response. If I do (eventually) get a response I’ll add it to this post.

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