On Tuesday we blogged about SNH’s response to our concerns over the on-going clam trap fiasco (see here). We said we would outline what we thought the next step should be. Here are our thoughts:
There are two main issues. The first one is that the consultation process was flawed. It did not meet the standard required by the Scottish Government’s ‘Consultation Good Practice Guide’, which is applicable to an agency like SNH (see here).
For example, consultations should allow “at least 12 weeks to respond”. This particular consultation opened on October 1st 2012 and closed on November 9th 2012, thus only allowing 5.5 weeks in which to respond. In addition, in order to be transparent, SNH should have provided feedback on how each and every point raised during the consultation was treated. As far as we can tell, this has not taken place. Instead, it appears that the majority of points raised have been ignored (in terms of the final outcome of the consultation). In which case it could be argued that the whole consultation was pointless; SNH had already decided what they were going to do, regardless of the majority view of respondents, and they were just going through the motions of holding a public consultation to appease those of us who might object to their proposals.
The second main issue is the basis of evidence that SNH used to approve the use of clam-type traps. According to SNH, the consultation did not provide any evidence that clam-type traps were unsafe for target and/or non-target species, or a threat to protected species. Instead, they argued that as clam-type traps had previously been in use (albeit probably illegally!) it would be “disproportionate to ban their use outright”. There are several problems with this argument.
First of all, it is clear that no independent testing has taken place to provide evidence that these traps are safe. If SNH are using the ‘lack of available evidence’ to show that the traps are unsafe, then surely that mandate should also apply to demonstrate that the traps are safe before they are authorised for use? Is there any evidence to show that the traps have no welfare or lethal impacts to either target or non target species, which may include protected species, to justify their use? If there is evidence, it has not been made available to the public, in which case, SNH should have applied the precautionary principle and not authorised these traps until such time as independent testing shows they pose no threat to animal welfare as well as no impact on non-target species, some of which may be protected species.
Secondly, SNH have argued that by restricting the type of bait for these traps (bread and eggs only), they have “minimised the risk to non-target species”. Whilst this may be applicable to raptors, it certainly does not minimise the risk to other protected, non-target species, including the pine marten, a species that loves to eat eggs! According to SNH’s own website, it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly capture a pine marten unless you have a special licence to do so (see here). So why authorise a trap that, depending on its location, is highly likely to capture a pine marten?!
Thirdly, SNH said that it would be “disproportionate to ban their [the traps] use outright”. But, if you read the responses to the consultation, the majority of respondents were not asking for an ‘outright ban’ – they were asking for independent testing prior to the traps being authorised. Furthermore, there are alternative traps (Larsen trap) that could be used if clam-type traps were not approved this year or until such time as a trial showed that they are safe. So for SNH to say that not approving their use is ‘disproportionate’ is overstating the reason for approving the use of these traps.
So, where to go from here? In the first instance, we propose that people contact SNH and ask them to provide evidence to show that clam-type traps have no welfare or lethal impacts on either target or non-target species, and if they can’t provide such evidence then they should pull the clam-type trap from the General Licences until such time as that evidence is available.
This is SNH’s last chance to act. If the evidence is not forthcoming and SNH still refuse to withdraw the clam-type trap from the General Licences, then the next step would be to go to the Ombudsman and ask whether SNH has carried out this consultation appropriately.
If that fails, then we think there is a very strong case for making a formal complaint against SNH to the EU, for failing to protect the very species that they have a statutory duty to protect. This complaint wouldn’t just be limited to the clam-type trap issue – it would cover other traps that SNH have authorised, including crow-cage traps, without addressing the legitimate concerns about their use. These concerns have been raised over and over again during the last few years (see the current and previous consultation responses of groups such as RSPB, SRSGs and OneKind for examples) and SNH has consistently ignored them. They may argue that they’re going to address these concerns in their proposed ‘Code of Practice’ that they say they will develop ‘early this year’. The problem with that is it has not been made clear whether they will actually address all the concerns, and even if they do, whether this ‘Code of Practice’ will be a voluntary code (in which case it’ll be worthless) or whether breaking this code will be considered a formal breach of the conditions of the General Licence (and therefore should result in a prosecution).
It’s time to get serious. Please consider emailing SNH. It only takes a minute. The complaint should go right to the top again: Ian Jardine, (Chief Executive SNH) – email@example.com
If you’re not sure what to write, either copy the blog URL into the body an email, or you could use the following text as a guide – simply cut and paste or adapt it to your own words:
Dear Dr Jardine,
Re: the recent SNH consultation which led to the authorisation of clam-type traps in the 2013 Open General Licences.
Please can you provide the evidence you have used to demonstrate that clam-type traps have no welfare or lethal impacts to target or non-target species. If the evidence is unavailable, please consider withdrawing the use of clam-type traps from the Open General Licences until such time as independent and rigorously tested evidence is available.