SNH issues new wildlife-killing licences in Scotland

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has issued its new General Licences today, which mostly focus on permitting the killing of some bird species under some circumstances, but there’s also a new General Licence (#14) with new rules on how stoats can be killed.

We blogged about the (then forthcoming) new General Licences for birds back in February (see here) when SNH published some information about the proposed changes.

Although this widespread killing is still mostly unmonitored, uncapped, too loosely regulated and the trap users generally unaccountable for their actions, some of the changes are to be welcomed, including 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) following legal challenges by Wild Justice south of the border.

We particularly welcome the new rule that individual bird trap operators must now register with SNH. Previously the General Licence conditions had stated that live-catch corvid traps (e.g. Larsen traps, Larsen mate traps and multi-catch crow cage traps) had to display an identification number of the trap owner, but this number did not identify an individual trap operator, only the owner, typically the landowner or sporting agent. So if an alleged breach/offence was detected, and the trap was located on a large grouse shooting estate where multiple gamekeepers were employed, it was virtually impossible for the Police to identify an individual suspect (and thus charge anyone) because the estate and gamekeepers simply closed ranks, offered a ‘no comment’ response and failed to identify the actual trap user. It’ll be interesting to see whether SNH knowing the identity of the trap operator will lead to successful prosecutions for mis-use.

[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]

However, even though there are some welcome changes in the new General Licences there are still many details in need of drastic improvement, not least the paucity of animal welfare considerations.

Late last year, Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform published a new report authored by coalition members OneKind and League Against Cruel Sports (Scotland) called Untold Suffering, which documented the scale and type of suffering endured by wildlife (and in some cases domestic pets) in various traps deployed on grouse moors.

Today, OneKind has written a blog about the animal welfare implications of the new General Licences for birds and is calling for a comprehensive welfare review (read the OneKind blog here).

Still on the subject of General Licences for birds, Wild Justice continues its legal challenge of the licences recently issued by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and has written two more blogs about the glaring errors that make those who sanctioned these licences look like fools (see here and here).

The newest General Licence in Scotland (#14) relates to the permitted killing of stoats for the conservation of wild birds or for prevention of serious damage to livestock. Natural England has also issued one and NRW is due to issue one today. This legislation has been in the pipeline for a few years as the UK has to now comply with the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards.

We don’t intend to go in to detail right now but the main point here is that stoat-killers are no longer permitted to use the Mark 4 Fenn (spring) trap for stoats, although apparently it is still a legal trap for rats and weasels as long as the conditions of the Springs Traps Approval Order are met. Instead, five new and apparently humane traps have been authorised by the new General Licence for killing stoats.

[The Mark 4 Fenn Trap is no longer permitted for catching stoats in the UK]

It’s not clear to us whether gamekeepers are still permitted to set the Mark 4 Fenn traps on the pretence of catching rats or weasels (but really still targeting stoats). If a stoat is captured will the trap operator be able to claim it as ‘accidental by-catch’? Or should the new legislation be interpreted in a way that gamekeepers should not set these traps in areas where the risk of catching stoats is high? And how would that risk be measured?

Time will tell, because inevitably there will be gamekeepers who will ignore the law and use these traps illegally, just as they’re still being used as illegal pole traps over one hundred years after pole-trapping was banned!

[A Mark 4 Fenn trap being used as an illegally-set pole trap, photo by RSPB]


16 thoughts on “SNH issues new wildlife-killing licences in Scotland”

  1. The whole concept is just so medieval and barbaric. We have no wildlife that is a serious threat to domestic animals, having extirpated the large carnivores from our lands centuries ago. What we have left is an archaic mindset amongst so many of our “guardians of the countryside”, coupled with the greed, avarice and sickness of the shooting industry.

    I am no fluffy-bunny sentimentalist: I would not cry for a single Grey Squirrel, Mink or Canada Goose, come to that, if they were removed from our landscape, but killing our native wildlife should always be a last resort in the conservation of rare and threatened wildlife, and certainly should not be allowed without the closest possible monitoring and the stiffest penalties for failure to adhere to guidelines.

    General licences should be illegal: they are uncontrolled, unmonitored excuses for the unscrupulous to break the law. They shame this nation as much as the hunters in the Mediterranean, the poachers in Africa and the wildlife markets in Asia and take away our right to criticise.

    1. Very well said – I fully agree. Can any system of trapping be justifiable where a significant percentage of what is caught consists of non-target species? Such odds would not be acceptable in any other context, so why should they be allowed here? The whole business stinks.

  2. Allowing Fenn traps to still be used , albeit not for stoats , has left many confused as to how this will work . The GWCT are advising keepers to dump the Fenns and embrace the new traps so as not to fall foul of the law . From today if a Fenn trap is used then the wire cover or wooden tunnel must have apertures of no more than 50mm which , supposedly , will deter stoats . Presumably if these adaptations are not made and a stoat is trapped then that will be a criminal act . However as always the guilty party can claim it was accidental . It will be interesting to see if any keeper is brought to book over this nebulous ruling .

    1. I agree with Simon and WTF this is still medieval and a piss poor mind set which allows our wildlife inconvenient to some to be killed without any account or control of the numbers killed, so SNH have only the broadest idea of what is happening out there that cannot be acceptable. As to the new trap rules governing Stoat I have yet to see a Stoat that could not relatively easily negotiate a 50mm square hole, especially if there is an attractive smelling bait on the other side. For me and I hope others any Fenn type trap set in any habitat that may contain stoats or that catches said stoat is and was an illegal act.
      Makes me wonder if all those traps we saw set under those grids on Mr Angry’s moor are still there?

      1. In England: South Yorks Police say for Fenn traps that remain in place need to prove intent if a stoat is killed otherwise it’s an accidental kill. If intent proved then its illegal. So similar situation to badgers caught in snares – they are “collateral damage”. Not surprising a few weeks ago S.Yorks shooting moors still had loads of set Fenn traps. Derbyshire Police have apparently had a word with keepers – no Fenn traps to be seen just a few new DOC traps. Some West Yorks moors have mixture of new Fenn traps and new DOC traps. Could do with the Wildlife Crime unit ensuring a consistent approach. Plus these new rules implemented when no members of public can go out and check.

        1. All I can say Bob is that if a trap is accessible to a stoat and set where there are stoats that is either criminal intent or criminal negligence and that South Yorkshire police are essentially wrong but it needs testing in court.

          1. Keepers should know whether or not they’ve got stoats and should choose their type of trap accordingly. No excuses!

            1. I’ve been following this issue for a long time. I had saved this link but I don’t know if the text has changed since I saved this quote from 2015:

              Changing trap legislation

              “GWCT represent research and practice at meetings with DEFRA and we are in discussion with Scottish Government and SASA (Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture) about what the next trap legislation change will say.

              We know that this legislation change is irreversible, regardless of Brexit, and as discussions stand at the moment we have until July 2018 for all stoat traps to be compliant with AIHTS. After this date Fenn-type traps may still be used to take rats and other approved species; but it will not be a defence to say, “But I set it for a rat/weasel/squirrel, Officer…” should a stoat be found caught.”

  3. Dear SNH, how many stoats are necessary for a healthy ecosystem?
    Stoats are a natural part of the ecosystem and help regulate the herbivore pressure. An ecosystem without stoats cant function properly…so if you permit their removal, how many can be removed without breaking the ecosystem.
    If SNH cant answer this question, they are in no position to issue any licence never mind a limitless unregulated general licence.

  4. ‘SNH’ obviously does not equal ‘Stoats Need Help’ as they won’t be getting it from Scotland’s supposed natural heritage policemen any time soon.

    Apparently (from their website) SNH’s purpose is to:

    “promote, care for and improve our natural heritage
    help people to enjoy nature responsibly
    enable greater understanding and awareness of nature
    promote the sustainable use of Scotland’s natural heritage”

    How does the mass – licensed – slaughter of our wildlife satisfy the above in any way, shape, or form?

    1. Apparently (from their website) SNH’s purpose is to:

      “promote, care for and improve our natural heritage
      By trapping,shooting or poisoning anything that moves by allowing these people a licence.

      1. And I bet that they don’t even see the irony of what they’re saying against what they’re permitting! Time they got a grip on this situation.

    2. The trouble is that both SNH and NE are caught in the trap of their and our own making of for many years accepting the “tradition” of countryside management for shooting and in a few cases farming with few modifications. It is from these, what used to until very recently mainstream views, that still give us the snaring of Foxes, the kill trapping of Stoats and Weasels and the general licence provisions for what some see as “problem ” bird species. It takes a change of mindset and a degree of courage to go against these norms. We should welcome this change but use it to push for better still regulation of those who continue to wage this pointless war against our remaining native predators. Snares are a barbarity that should be gone from a modern Britain, can we really justify allowing Stoats and Weasels to be widely trapped without challenge, just because its tradition and their number s do not seem to hugely diminish as a result? What of the Polecats trapped and killed as feral Ferrets or as bye catch in Mink traps. Rather as Wild Justice has and continues to challenge General licences for birds in England and Wales all trapping and killing of mammals should be challenged to be justified rather than it just all be accepted, if it is to continue there should also be requirements for numbers to be documented.

  5. This is the opinion of one not greatly familiar with the use of traps and/or alleged ‘pest’ control, but a great love of the hills and moors that surround where I live. These Fenn traps seem so open to abuse or misuse or accidental injury of other species, that I can see no valid reason for allowing them in the first place. How to tell whether they are being used for rats and/or weasels, rather than stoats, raptors (including owls) seems to be a loophole any half decent barrister could drive a horse and cart through if trying to defend the setter of a trap.

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