Scottish gamekeepers complain about alleged escalation of trap vandalism

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association is today complaining about an alleged escalation in the vandalism of animal traps on shooting estates.

This supposed increase has been attributed to ‘activists’ and the SGA wants the law tightened up so that the alleged perpertrators can be prosecuted.

There’s widespread media coverage about it today e.g. in The National (here), The Times (here) and on the SGA website (here).

Photo of an allegedly vandalised trap (from The National)

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard such claims. Back in 2013 it was discussed during a Rural Affairs Parliamentary Committee meeting, when then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse acknowledged that trap tampering might be taking place but that there was no hard evidence to show how widespread the problem might be so at that time it was considered all conjecture.

In 2015 the issue was raised again by a Fife landowner and an article in the local press suggested that “Police Scotland is reporting a rise in the number of traps being tampered with“.

We challenged that claim by looking at the results of a year-long trap tampering study carried out across Scotland by BASC between April 2014 and March 2015. The results showed that the issue was not widespread at all, but seemed to centre on a handful of local areas.

Whether the problem has increased since then is hard to tell without independently collected data. The problem might have increased. It’s not hard to understand the motivation that might lead to someone damaging a trap. It might be on animal welfare grounds (someone might see a non-target species dead in a trap). It might be because someone can’t tell whether a trap is legally or illegally-set – it’s not always easy to judge. It might be because someone objects to predator control just to maximise a landowner’s profits. Or the motivation might simply be because so many cases of illegally-set traps rarely result in a prosecution, even when a known gamekeeper has been filmed setting an illegal trap. That doesn’t make trap vandalism ‘right’, we’re just saying it’s easy to understand why it might be happening.

Photo of a young red grouse killed by a lawfully-set trap (photo by RPUK)

It’s equally plausible to suggest that some gamekeepers may be deliberately vandalising one or two of their own traps and then reporting it to the police as the work of ‘activists’ in an attempt to smear those whose campaign to put game-shooting under political scrutiny is gaining such traction.

Whatever might be happening, it’s ironic that the SGA doesn’t make this much noise when cases of illegally-set traps on game-shooting estates are reported in the media.

It’s very hard (virtually impossible) for us to sympathise with the SGA when it remains silent (or concocts outlandish alternative explanations) about the on-going abuse and use of illegal traps, by gamekeepers, to target birds of prey on game-shooting estates.

Speaking of which, we’re still waiting for the findings of the SGA’s inquiries in to who set the illegal traps that were discovered on a grouse moor on Invercauld Estate last year.

47 thoughts on “Scottish gamekeepers complain about alleged escalation of trap vandalism”

  1. I believe trap vandalism is just down to ordinary folk wanting to ‘fit in’ with the rest of the upland criminals!

  2. Really difficult to believe anything that they say, just another side swipe to paint a picture which they’d really like us to believe. Now if they were a little more scientific and collected some evidence, photos with provenance, maps showing hot spots, numbers and methods etc ., then they’d have a little bit more to go on and be slightly more believable – you know something like RPUK provides on raptor persecution. As it is, even if there is a bit of trap vandalism going on, who in the world would believe them based on their track record?

    1. Do you think there would be any value in recording details and photos of any trap found and making that available publicly. I can think of two benefits: first it might open some eyes to the practice and attract some adverse publicity particularly once the general public gets an idea of the scale of the practice, secondly it would provide at least anecdotal evidence on the scale of illegally set traps – again with the purpose of increasing public awareness.

      1. Hi Flagstonesoftware

        For quite a number of years now, I together with a small group of friends, have been developing forms for people with no legal experience to use to fill in if they come across snares or traps. The answers to the questions indicate whether the trap (bird, spring and drop traps) or snares are legal in design and/or set up. We hope to have hyperlinks to the precise law and the legislative details of the specific potential crime or crimes. We want to develop a web site which helps people identify precise crimes for the police or appropriate regulatory body to investigate. Sadly, the group has split up and its remaining members, like me, are old codgers who don’t know how to set up a web site. I’d be very keen to hear from anyone who would be interested in helping. Had anyone any views on this?

  3. What is the more significant crime, shooting a breeding Hen Harrier or vandalising a trap? It’s ironic as well as pathetic that the SGA is accusing a sector of society for damaging traps, a crude instrument of population control of so-called “pest species,” which others regard as ordinary predators which have a rightful place in the ecosystem. It might be legal for some species, but is grossly immoral and unnecessary. I know RPUK would never condone any illegal vandalism of traps, but it is a ridiculous situation that SGA is campaigning for a tightening of the law in one case and doing next to nothing to stop their own members law-breaking on a far more serious level. This is a glaringly obvious attempt to divert attention away from their own criminal conduct, and deserves nothing but contempt. I doubt very much anyway if there has been a real significant increase in trap destruction, and in any case such instruments of torture and death should have no place in the modern world. I can’t help but despair and wonder if we will ever achieve true civilisation.

  4. Why not play them at their own game.

    The prosecutions for trap vandalism is at a historical all time low

    Trap vandalism supports the local rural economy – the ironmongers-metal workers etc are provide with valuable (above minimum wage) employment in fixing these traps

    The traps are only vandalised by one or two bad eggs

  5. I found a trap similar to the one depicted at the top of the page crossing a ditch right beside a main road. I have no idea to the legality of the trap or the legality of its location. I do though find it a disgusting item.

    1. I hope you took a photo or video and noted the location. This sounds like a fenn trap. It should have been In A Cage Or Cover With An Entrance large Enough To Allow A Stoat To Enter But small Enough To Prevent Non Target Species From Getting In. The Trap Should Not Have Been Set If There Were Signs Of Protected Animals In The Area Or Nesting Birds (with Chicks Small Enough To Enter.). The Trap Itself Should Have Conformed To Other Requirements.

  6. The well known ex-Gamekeeper clams that, if licensing of shooting estates comes into play in Scotland, ‘animal rights activists’ will incriminate estate owners by making false claims and presenting dead raptors that have nothing to do with the estate(s) concerned – he represents the shooting industry – that says a lot about their way of thinking.

    1. A late friend of mine ran a couple of Shoots [ we didn’t agree on a number of other wildlife subjects too!] He employed Keepers and often commented on what a strange breed they were and how he disliked them.
      This is clinical paranoia at it’s extreme, comes of having nothing of value to think about.

  7. How can I put this? Oh, I know:

    Maybe they should just give up trapping then?
    Save everyone the trouble.

  8. Forgot to mention in my earlier comment that I was made aware that East Arkengarthdale Estate (remember them?) uses covert surveillance on some traps. A certain member of the public was ‘politely’ requested not to interfere with traps on their land and if it was to happen again a prosecution with video evidence would be brought.
    East Arkengarthdale Estate using video evidence to prosecute……oh the irony!

  9. Perhaps there’d be fewer incidents if those concerned followed BASC’s Code of Practice regarding the use of traps which states “wherever possible avoid setting traps on or near public footpaths, public rights of way, areas of common land used by persons exercising domestic animals, or in the vicinity of houses”. From what I’ve seen these guidelines are widely ignored.

  10. Oh my, what a predicament for the poor gamekeeping fraternity. It sounds like a story I heard of a burgler being help up by a highwayman and robbed of his ‘booty’.

    Makes your heart bleed, to listen to their bleating of the ‘law’ not being obeyed. Wonder where the idea came from!!

  11. Legal or not, many of these traps are simply barbaric and have no place in a supposedly civilised society. (Live trapping of the kind used for mink and grey squirrels, where the target species is humanely dispatched are in a different category).

    1. Sandra, I don’t want to go off-topic but can’t resist responding to your comment on mink and and grey squirrels. I can’t agree that grey squirrels are “humanely dispatched” after trapping, when the recommended method is bagging them and bashing their heads in with a brick! Personally many of us are offended by the mass slaughter of these innocent creatures, and we’re not all of the so-called “fluffy bunny” brigade. The cull is becoming increasingly controversial, with the scientific evidence starting to suggest that the impact on Red Squirrels is nowhere near as significant as portrayed in the media, notably and predictably the right-wing tabloids. I also fear for the future, with the enthusiasm for killing squirrels producing a new generation of hunters to enjoy even more killing of wildlife. Not helped by the shooting industry running training courses for schoolchildren, in how to shoot squirrels with air rifles! All part of a sad trend throughout our society.

      1. ‘the scientific evidence starting to suggest that the impact on Red Squirrels is nowhere near as significant as portrayed in the media’


        Do you have a reputable source for that?

        So far as I am aware the settled view of those involved in red squirrel conservation is that greys do pose an existential threat to reds.

        BTW The recommended method of dispatch of trapped greys is to shoot them with an air rifle while they’re in the traps. It’s only if that’s not possible that clubbing is suggested. Not with a brick though. You made that bit up.

          1. That link just seems to be a tendentious mishmash put together by an ‘animal rights’ pressure group. I’ll stick with the settled consensus on the issue. Seems to be the responsible thing to do.

  12. It’s yet another misplaced attempt by them to get the public onside. They have failed to notice that society and attitudes have changed around them while they still fantasise about the Victorian/Edwardian Dystopia they presided over. They have a few minimum wage workers still in their thrall, dreaming as they do, of being modern day Davie Crockatt’s while sleeping in their camo gear. However, demographic change has now assured that their neighbours are more likely to be anti-blood sport than in favour of it. Witness the last wrigglings of the man-made behemoth which has laid waste to our environmental heritage.

    1. Yeah, you are going to engender public sympathy by saying that people are stopping you slaughtering wildlife to boost your profits.

  13. There’s only one answer to this problem …….
    All traps should be fitted with satellite tags & those who wish to vandalise them should always remove the traps.
    The losses can then be plotted on a map & withheld by the relevant agency for many years !
    Rock on !

    Keep up the pressure !

  14. Almost all shooting estates, and predominantly grouse shooting estates, use Fenn Traps.

    These diabolical traps should have been outlawed in the UK in July last year but the UK government was the only EU country to seek a derogation of implementing the ban for two years.

    These traps have been banned in the rest of the EU, Canada, the USA, and Russia and negotiations on the International TREATY have been taking place since the 1990s.

    The ban in the UK should have been enacted under the AIHTS (Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards) which outlaws traps which do not kill the ‘target’ animal within a certain time period (depending on the species) and by crushing the skull. Fenn Traps do not meet the criteria.

    In October 2015 Defra commissioned animal research into possibly two traps to determine whether these traps met the criteria. The research finished in February 2016 and the report of the results was given to the government just before the ban deadline. Defra claim there are no traps which meet the criteria which have been drawn up before any new traps can be approved for use with stoats (the animals they are allegedly used to ‘control’ In the UK on grouse moors. I have been waiting and repeatedly waiting for a copy of the report since July 2016 which is supposed to be released ‘soon’ ‘shortly’. In the meantime Defra have held Ministerial meetings about this international agreement with all the usual brigade (GWCT, BASC, NFU, NGA, MA, CA etc) but no animal welfare groups (or rather Defra identifies the establishment that carried out the lethal animal research as the animal welfare representative group!). All these groups and MPs with pecuniary interests in the shooting industry have held meetings with Defra and Ministers about the AIHTS for years.

    A key meeting with about 20 individuals and pro-shooting groups was held in January 2016 which was attended by Senior Defra officials. Following the meeting, Defra officials worked with some of the lobbyists to draw up an action plan for derogating the Agreement. Despite repeated FOI requests, Defra claims that no minutes of that meeting to discuss compliance or non compliance with an International Treaty were taken by Defra officials and none of them took notes!

    The GWCT have confirmed to me that their representative chaired the meeting and one of their group took the minutes of the meeting. They are refusing to release them to me and Defra claims not to have received copies of the minutes of this important legally crucial meeting so they cannot release them!

    In the meantime the Hedgehog Preservation Society has taken up the cause as one of the two likely candidate replacement traps is the (iirc) A24 traps, a New Zealand trap specifically designed to kill hedgehogs. Please sign their petition.

    The other likely candidate is the New Zealand DOC trap which has achieved AIHTS compliance for use with stoats in New Zealand. Stoats in New Zealand are the same species as in the UK since they were transported and released there. The problem for the shooting industry is that they are expensive so they and Defra have introduced a criteria (amongst quite a few) for approval of any new traps of cheapness! The DOC trap’s higher AIHTS compliance rate is achieved by a specially designed box that forces the animal’s head into a position where it is most likely to end in its skull (rather than spine) being crushed – hence a quicker death.

    At the EU meetings the Defra representatives have explained that the AIHTS will have a significant financial impact on small, family run businesses!

    Well if the game and shooting industry is mouthing off about a few traps allegedly being vandalised then it puts the impact of the proposed UK ban into perspective, doesn’t it.

    Do all these shenanigans sound familiar? This is an outrage that has only been touched on – even by RPUK!

    1. Why are they killing stoats anyway, not to mention foxes and crows (legitimately)? They don’t even have the usual pathetic excuse that they are non-native or invasive. Time for a major rethink about how we treat our wildlife.

      1. Totally agree with all your comments Iain- and all the others despairing at the immorality of these traps.
        Am reading ‘Eternal Treblinka’ , and as the venerable Greer Hart said, it does ring very true and makes deeply disturbing reading of the similarities between the way animals, wildlife are widely treated, and Nazi Germany. for vandalised traps read resistance helping Ann Frank etc etc

        1. I’ve usually been very reluctant to type up my thoughts on this because it might seem an OTT analogy but to me there’s always been one hell of a similarity between the way our predators, and those trying to protect them, are demonised and the way the Nazi’s presented and dealt with their opponents and those they wished to persecute. The same pathetic twisting and misuse of ‘science’, constant goal post moving to select what you want to and ignore the rest, pretend the oppressor is really the poor victim, pretending to care about people and things they don’t actually give a fig for, and of course out right smears, lies and propaganda – plus harassment. When they use the term raptorphiles (rich coming from a group that are obsessed with a few species of birds being used as feathered clay pigeons) for those who have to make extra efforts due to the additional problems raptors face because of persecution, isn’t it reminiscent of the Nazis calling their opponents ‘Jew lovers’? The Holocaust and raptor free uplands, otters being snared, fox hunting, badger baiting are very different outcomes obviously, but don’t they share exactly the same root cause and method of delivery – self delusion/importance, ignorance and hatred?

  15. Sorry – I wasn’t taking a dig at RPUK. I was making the point that this scandal has gone under the radar thanks to secrecy and obstruction of government officials.

  16. This is dedicated to you guys for all your work

    A Famous Grouse for the Glorious 11 th?

    On our rolling hills, the sometime purple fell
    The heather mires and moor, the ‘mountain’ side
    Wild red grouse very occasionally call and largely hide.
    Then there are the bred multitudes for the Glorious 12th
    Grouse, by beaters driven, to the regiment of line
    The barking guns
    Flushed birds in hundreds and thousands to be shot to order and with wine.
    At this last Somme, butchered, not to eat but for a sport, a blood lust
    Lord’s, Royalty and city wannabees, the passage rite, the sign.

    No longer footmen and the carriage now its the big 4×4
    The “Grouse of the Overcrowded Thousands” are bred on antibiotics
    And medicated grit then butchered on a feudal moor
    Land aristocratically enclosed once stolen from the common law.
    This ritual is draped with Royal Ermine,
    Across England no skydance of the buoyant winged hen harrier,
    Across Scotland no eagle soars the managed moorland sky,
    These predators are exterminated by the keeper cleansing hillsides free of “vermin”.

    “Go back, Go back” the call within a whirr of short russet and brown wings
    A grumbling explosion when disturbed from the heather.
    One bird most often, or two, once eight, sometimes three
    In the wild wet moors of Wales
    Largely solitary and in decline but natural, wild and free.

    The ghosts of ancient eisteddfodd, beer and the lyre
    A scattered mottled mosaic of a celtic moor and mire
    The yellowing sedge and cotton grass tops are white in hue
    A golden plover calls lonely to God, “Dieu, Dieu”

    His friend “Dozy” the dunlin is trilling at your feet
    Then scuttles like a rat through the tussocks and the peat
    A bolted “Cyril” snipe rises to drum, like an idiot on his tail,
    While in the rain and hail, a windswept sky, a rapacious peregrine
    “Psycho” his time is biding
    Languid limbed hangs “Barcud the Swallow Tailed Kite”
    A bloody cormorant is in a thermal doing a “Jonathan Livingstone”
    No more than a speck in sight
    On a white flowered blackthorn “Elusive” the merlin yickers high on Cwmdeuddwr scree
    While the gatekeeper “Raaks” and barrel rolls as ink black Ronald Raven
    Over the hanging oak woods of this quiet mid Wales haven
    A happy hunting ground a song of this heart its alleleulia chorus, a cacophony of larks.

    “Go Back Go Back” rang out across the years
    It took a while to comprehend but after what had seemed an age
    Which of this motley upland crew who might have been the sage ?
    Was it really the ever reluctant, short wing flighter and legendary grumbler
    Forever confined in a desperate evolutionary circumstance
    Now tragically only eating young shoots of heather ? Red the Grouse.
    A really niche vegetarian at the dead end of a dietary revolution
    Hiding in a not so virtual prison
    A member of a trapped avian class who can not leave this moor,
    With its annual sporting simulation of bloody trench war?

    Who called “Go Back Go Back” to the hearths of cynefin so to find your heart?

    The raven behind me would deep in stygian laugh
    Croak from his jutting crag, high on some glowering lee
    That with this most awkward philosophic observation
    This vegetarian was now due the most high elevation
    To his true and noble station,
    Lord of the Manor.
    This to be awarded with a mottled cap
    And red badge of the ‘Feathered Fellowship’
    As due title to be worn with pride and real haughter
    In such sage and karmic acceptance of death in this brutal Victorian slaughter.

    “Go Back Go Back”, the night before the line of guns, still he grumbled away to me
    To toast the fire’s last flowering embers and raise one very last whisky.

  17. Pity police scotland don’t appear to treat wildlife crime with the same enthusiasm as alleged trap tampering.

    Funny that the ‘trap fairies defence’ is also used by gamekeepers when their snares and traps have caught and caused suffering to animals.

    When was the last time we heard of police scotland taking any enforcement action against wildlife crime.

  18. A few years ago I had a report of a Larsen trap in a garden on the south side of Glasgow. Set for corvids it had actually caught a juvenile fox which may have eaten the decoy and any trapped birds. The noise of the fox had alerted the people who reported the trap to me. They climbed over the wall into the garden, opened the trap and released the fox.

    The police confirmed the trap was not registered or I.D. tagged and the owner had gone away for three days leaving the trap set. Despite these three breeches of legislation on setting Larsen traps the owner was simply advised by the police on how to do things properly in future. I was advised by the police that my informants could face criminal charges if they did such a thing again.

    Earlier this year a similar case occurred near Aberlour. This time the trap was on an estate and obviously had not been visited for some time. When the police found the trap it was no longer set. Yet again it was simply a case of the owner being advised on how to do it right in future.

    However the police did not threaten my informants but thanked them for the precise directions they gave to find the trap. Seemingly the guy in Glasgow only had to register the Larsen as being in his garden, giving the police a few hundred square metres to search. The Aberlour trap owner only had register that his Larsen was on the estate, giving the police many square kilometres of ground to cover!

    Over the years I have seen several abandoned, dilapidated Larsen traps in different parts of the country. Perhaps the keepers had forgotten where they put them and it would help them if they had to give the police a precise map reference when registering their traps?

    It would be easy to suggest that old, abandoned traps had been vandalised.

    My advice has always been to photograph and note the precise location of any trap you come across and then pass that info direct to the police or via a third party such as Animal Concern and then leave it to the police to determine the legality or otherwise of the device. You should also carry a small pair of wire cutters just in case you come across a dog or other non-target species caught in a snare.

  19. both traps in those pictures are Fenns. The Spring Traps Approval (Scotland) Order 2011 states that they “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.

    There is no way that the mesh size (looks like 50mm in the upper photo and not far off it on the lower one) or the distance from the entrance of the tunnel to the location of the trap could be described as ‘minimising’ the risk of non-target capture. Any bird thrush size or smaller could go through a 50mm mesh and any dog, cat, wildcat, badger or pine marten could stick its paw through the mesh or in the front of the tunnel and get its paw caught.

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