New rules for bird traps in Scotland

Last week Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) published some information about its proposed changes to the General Licences, effective from 1 April 2020.

Some of those changes include the removal of some bird species from some licences, and the removal of General Licences from some protected areas (to be replaced by individual licences) but we don’t intend to comment on any of that just now as Wild Justice’s legal team is currently evaluating the lawfulness of the proposals.

However, the news that ravens would NOT be added to the General Licences is very welcome, although we are hearing rumours that the so-called Strathbraan Community Collaboration for Waders (basically a load of gamekeepers) and GWCT might be preparing another application for a specific licence to kill ravens in Strathbraan. Freedom of Information requests have been submitted and we’ll keep you posted.

A considerable war chest is still available from the legal challenge made against the Strathbraan raven cull in 2018 and these funds are ring-fenced which means another legal challenge can be launched with immediate effect if necessary.

Another welcome aspect of SNH’s 2020 General Licences is the decision to register individual operators of bird traps.

[A multi-catch crow cage trap, baited with a live decoy bird and used to capture hundreds of birds which are then killed, often by being beaten to death with a stick. Photo by OneKind]

Previously in Scotland, the General Licence conditions have stated that live-catch corvid traps (e.g. Larsen traps, Larsen mate traps and multi-catch crow cage traps) have to display an identification number of the trap owner, but this number does not identify an individual trap operator, only the owner, typically the landowner or sporting agent. So if an alleged breach/offence has been detected, and the trap is located on a large grouse shooting estate where multiple gamekeepers are employed, it has been virtually impossible for the Police to identify an individual suspect (and thus charge anyone) because the estate and gamekeepers simply close rank, offer a ‘no comment’ response and fail to identify the actual trap user.

In reality this situation is laughable because very often on large shooting estates gamekeepers are employed specifically to manage a delineated area of an estate, known as a ‘beat’. Their job title is even ‘beatkeeper’ (as illustrated in this January 2020 advert, below) so the idea that, when an alleged offence has been discovered, an individual trap operator at a particular location on an estate can’t be identified is what might be called taking the piss.

Nevertheless, this apparent inability to identify a named suspect has happened time and time and time again, as regular blog readers will be only too aware. It’s why we (e.g. here) and especially the RSPB (e.g. here) have been campaigning for years to have this loophole closed.

The new registration requirements in the 2020 Scottish General Licences still don’t go far enough – there should at least be a requirement for trap operators to submit annual returns so that SNH, and others, can monitor the number of birds killed. But nevertheless, the requirement for individual trap users to be registered is a big step in the right direction. And this level of improved accountability, although still lacking, is way ahead of the General Licences in England and Wales as documented in this timely blog from the RSPB today.

For further information on the Scottish General Licences 2020 see these documents prepared by SNH:

General Licensing Changes Summary – February 2020

General Licensing Changes FAQs – February 2020

13 thoughts on “New rules for bird traps in Scotland”

  1. It is typical of the gamekeepers and their allies to claim that there are only a few odd rogues breaking the law in relation to birds, traps etc., etc. while the rest of them are being undeservedly included in the condemnation. This sits uncomfortably with the reality of individual beats which are the responsibility of one named individual whom, in these circumstances, must be the perpetrator of the crimes described in the article.
    As everyone working on the Estate, from other gamekeepers to the office staff must know who is responsible but are unwilling to say then this criminalises them all, making a mockery of the claims they make about the odd rogue. Both the police and the authorities must know this and how easily it could be proved but choose to ignore it rather than take steps to end this practise. .. and there are quite a few methods such illegal connivance could be exposed under examination in a court of law.
    For me this illustrates the reach and power of the hegemony of large land owners and their representatives both in local and national terms.
    The changes above are certainly an advance on the current situation but whether or not they will be policed effectively is still to be assessed.

  2. Good to have small steps, sorry, shuffles in the right direction, as opposed any form of movement in the opposite direction.

  3. ..and lets not forget, that every time the wall of silence defence is used..there are several individuals – gamekeepers and their boss – who know exactly who has committed the alleged crime and are helping cover it up. Zero tolerance?…nah.

    1. Not only are all of a wall of silence guilty but in my experience if a beat keeper is committing offences then he has the tacit approval of the head keeper. Beat keepers rarely breath without the head keeper giving them permission the idea that an estate can have a single bad beat keeper just doesn’t ring true.
      Many years ago an ex keeper told me that in 30 years of being a keeper he had never known a keeper persecute who hadn’t been instructed to do so either by his employer, an agent or the Head keeper and I’m sure that still pertains, and who instructs the head keeper!
      This is as others have said a small step in the right direction. I also think that there should be rules about siting of traps– in my experience Larson or Crow cage traps with magpie decoys set in Woodland are not about catching magpies!

  4. I should feel that the licence changes for traps is good news, particularly as “Having individuals register to use traps means that there will no longer be any question as to who is responsible for an individual trap.” It will be interesting to see what happens when there is video evidence available of wrongdoing associated with a trap for the umpteenth time. The Crown Office still has in place, not overruled by change in regulation or legislation, this statement : ” The statutory access rights granted by section 1 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 are granted for specific purposes. The purpose of investigating and detecting crime is not one of those purposes. It follows that someone who is on land for such a purpose is not there pursuant to the rights granted under the Act.” and “In any event, the Scottish Outdoor Access Code states that where people exercising access rights wish to undertake surveys of natural or cultural heritage which require the installation of any equipment or instruments they should “seek the permission of the relevant land managers”: para. 3.64.”
    It is not up to the Crown Office to remedy this. It is up to the Scottish Government who have been almost unbelievably slow in recognising that the Law does not adequately cover issues such as this. I truly despair at the myriad of missed opportunities. I cannot believe that these “Get out of jail free” cards are still carelessly left around, awaiting use.

  5. When traps are located in the middle of nowhere, with no statutory monitoring, this amounts to nothing more than tinkering around with an objectively cruel system. Intelligent, native birds are reduced to nothing more than a disposable nuisance and often suffer immense distress in Larsen traps. We already know that, based on RSPB figures, gamekeepers are disproportionately represented when it comes to raptor crime convictions and that doesn’t include the ‘legal’ suffering they inflict with traps and snares. The idea that these people are in any way interested in conservation, and not merely protecting the economic interests (game birds) of the estate that employs them, is absolutely laughable. The idea that gamekeepers provide any public good is an absolute sham.

    1. “The idea that these people are in any way interested in conservation, and not merely protecting the economic interests (game birds) of the estate that employs them, is absolutely laughable. The idea that gamekeepers provide any public good is an absolute sham.”

      Dang tootin’!

  6. How does vicarious liability come into this? Surely all employees operating traps are acting de facto per the owner’s instructions so the owner must be liable. Obstructing police enquiries etc is still an offence too??

    1. How do you define “biggest”, are you saying they kill more birds with traps than anyone else, or that they operate more traps than anyone else or that they are the largest organisation using traps? All of which I suspect aren’t actually correct. Or is there some other metric that you have based your claim on?

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