Scottish Gamekeepers Association ‘negotiating with Government’ for new offence of trap damage

News emerged this week, via the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s (SGA) e-newsletter for members that it is currently ‘negotiating with Government’ for the creation of a new offence relating to trap damage:

This is really quite interesting. The SGA, with others, has been arguing for several years that legally-set traps have been ‘tampered with’ or damaged by members of the public and these claims usually occur just after an illegally-set trap has been discovered and reported in the media. A recent example of this was the male hen harrier that was found in considerable distress with its leg almost severed in an illegally-set trap on Leadhills Estate (see here).

[Male hen harrier found with an almost severed leg, caught in an illegally-set spring trap next to its nest on Leadhills Estate (see here). Nobody has been prosecuted for this barbaric crime but the estate has had its use of the General Licence restricted by SNH as a direct result of this and other offences (see here)].

The implication of such claims has seemed clear – instead of accepting that some gamekeepers continue to break the law (e.g. by setting illegal traps), the shooting industry would rather deflect the blame on to so-called ‘animal rights extremists’ who are accused of ‘setting up estates’.

During a cross-party RACCE committee hearing in 2013, then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse said there was no evidence to support claims of widespread trap tampering/damage by ‘activists’ (see here) although it emerged that BASC was undertaking a survey to assess the extent of this alleged problem.

A couple of years later in 2015 that BASC survey revealed that trap tampering/damage did take place but according to industry evidence, it couldn’t be described as being a ‘widespread’ issue (see here).

In 2017 the SGA again complained of a so-called ‘escalation’ in trap damage and again attributed this to ‘activists’ but as we reported at the time (see here), yet again the evidence was lacking.

Let’s be clear here though. It is quite evident, just looking through social media, that some members of the public are indeed deliberately damaging traps to render them unusable, either because they have an ethical objection to the killing of native wildlife to increase gamebird stocks, or because they’ve become so frustrated with what they perceive to be a lack of enforcement action against the criminal gamekeepers, or because they believe the trap to be illegal. The legislation on trap use is complicated and many members of the public are simply unaware of what is legal and what is illegal. (For a basic introduction have a look at this from OneKind and this from Revive).

To be honest, we’d welcome some clarity on what constitutes ‘tampering’ or ‘damage’. At the moment it is not at all clear and trap tampering may not always constitute a criminal offence. For example, the SGA’s lawyer, David McKie, wrote in a 2013 edition of the SGA’s members’ rag:

As a matter of law, there is a significant difference between interference and vandalism.

Vandalism would involve the breaking of a crow cage trap by someone punching or kicking a hole in it, for example, or the deliberate smashing up of a Fenn trap. It would also include the cutting of snares.

Interference does not necessarily involve a criminal offence….That can involve the removal of traps from their set location, the release of decoy birds or the pulling of snares.

The police can probably not charge the individual with interference’.

In some cases there may be a legitimate defence to causing trap damage – e.g. if a trapped animal is seen to be injured inside a padlocked crow cage trap and needs urgent veterinary attention, but the location is remote and there’s no phone signal to call for help, it might be considered reasonable to cut the trap wire to extricate the wounded animal. Much will depend on the individual circumstances of each incident.

Another example might be the discovery of what is obviously an illegally-set trap. Is it an offence to disable it if there is absolutely no question that it’s been set unlawfully? As an example, here’s a pole trap that was photographed on an estate in the Angus Glens. It’s been an offence to set pole traps for over 100 years!

[An illegal pole trap, photograph by RSPB]

It’d be kind of ironic if a member of the public was prosecuted for disabling such a pole trap, when the person who allegedly set it (a gamekeeper was filmed by the RSPB attending the trap) had the prosecution against him dropped by the Crown Office because the video evidence was deemed inadmissible!

So, yes, regardless of the extent of trap tampering / damage, greater clarity is certainly required on what constitutes an offence. However, given how long we’ve been waiting for the Scottish Government to bring in new legislation to tackle the persistent illegal persecution of birds of prey on sporting estates, that’s happening at such a scale it’s known to be affecting entire populations of some of these species, the trap tampering offence that the SGA claims to be ‘negotiating’ should be way down the list of Government priorities.

UPDATE 12 May 2020: Parliamentary questions on proposed new offences for trap damage (here)

UPDATE 16 May 2020: Scottish Government denies ‘negotiating’ with gamekeepers on new offences for trap damage (here)

28 thoughts on “Scottish Gamekeepers Association ‘negotiating with Government’ for new offence of trap damage”

  1. My God, the arrogance of these primitive people is truly astounding.Such blatant cruelty seems to go right over their heads. They seem like a different species to normal human beings, believing that all other living things are there for their benefit and entertainment….when will someone grow a spine, forget how the landed fools think themselves to be above everyone and everything else, including the laws of the land, and punish them for their vile deeds….it’s just so very disturbing to read about these things, heartbreaking in fact.

    1. Id like to think the scottish government has more pressing things to do (covid 19, brexit, everything they normally do) to pander to a criminal industry and change legislation when DGS is on its way out.

    2. It is a reflection of the arrogance of the landed classes who know that the Establishment, including the Royal Family, support the shooting industry.

  2. I’d find it difficult to resist disabling any form of wildlife trap I found, unless I was aware of, and sympathised with, its purpose – for example a rat trap set to eradicate rats from the breeding grounds of a red-listed species.

    On a lighter note, you might want to change ‘pubic’ to ‘public’ in that penultimate paragraph! [Ed: done, thanks!]

  3. Now what was that figure again – the percentage of trapped or snared victims not being the target species? Something in the order of 70 % if my memory serves me correctly. Surely this is an issue which warrants a place much higher on the list of priorities for ‘negotiation’ than interference with these tools of the gamekeepers’ dastardly trade. Where else would such a high error rate be tolerated?

  4. I’ve never damaged a trap. I may have tripped one or two fen traps with a long stick on my youth, but I left them where they were. That’s not damage, so even on what they are saying that wouldn’t be a criminal offence

  5. Refreshing to see them getting all angry and frustrated about apparent trap persecution.
    I have no sympathy or empathy for them – we’ve had years of anger and frustration at raptor persecution.

    Look how they mobilise themselves when it’s something they care about. Or when it’s something the nation cares about – they’ve stopped burning during Covid-19 so why can’t they stop killing raptors?

  6. Would it be a fair trade off if the powers that be agreed that photographic evidence from hidden camera’s be allowed in all cases of wildlife crime regardless of who hid them on what ground? I’d imagine the thought of others being allowed to secrete camera’s trained on vulnerable nests and other dubious practises would worry them much more than the odd trap currently being interfered with. If they do get .a law passed then it is difficult to see how the Government could keep face allowing one to be visually recorded on a hidden device but not the other.
    I’m sure Wild Justice, or other organisations, might just begin legal proceedings if that was the outcome.

  7. So let me just recap here for a moment. SGA who have a shed full of bad apples that go around shooting, trapping, poisoning and destroying species protected by law want the Scottish Government to bring in a new law to cover tampering or destroying traps. Duh! One is an ongoing massive problem which the Scottish Government has dragged its heals over for years and years and the other is a petty and minor issue proposed by the offenders!
    You’re pulling my leg!

  8. The answer is simple: ban all traps. Nobody needs them. Then there will be no traps / snares to be damaged.

  9. Oh dear. The SGA are sinking deeper into the swamp they have created. They are just an embarassment. In years to come we will regard these and similar actions as the beginning of the end of grouse shooting. The landed elites are beginning to run out ammunition.

    1. In total agreement – This is one where high profile publicity could only worsen their image – the general public,if and when they have access to photographic evidence of the wide range of non-target species killed, would only see it one way.

  10. More smoke and mirrors from the SGA to deflect from the more serious issues raised by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which may well render gamekeepers committing an offence under this piece of legislation if they cause unnecessary suffering to an animal caught on one of their traps.

    The Animal Welfare Act Para 2(b) states that any animal becomes a “protected” animal if it is “it is under the control of man whether on a permanent or temporary basis”.- this by its definition includes animals or birds caught in traps and snares.

    Para 4 goes on to state -“A person commits an offence if—
    (a) an act of his, or a failure of his to act, causes an animal to suffer,
    (b) he knew, or ought reasonably to have known, that the act, or failure to act, would have that effect or be likely to do so,
    (c) the animal is a protected animal, and
    (d) the suffering is unnecessary

    It is because of this piece of legislation that we have seen the recent change in law regarding the use of Fenn traps, which are illegal to use for killing stoats, as it fails to kill them instantly and causes unnecessary suffering.

    All recent studies have shown that crows and other species of corvid are intelligent, social birds.
    Parliament was forced to acknowledge that wild animals are sentient creatures.
    It should therefore come as no surprise that there is now a growing body of evidence that indicates that placing a crow or other corvid in a larsen or crow trap may well cause distress and suffering- the bird is intelligent enough to know it is trapped, which may well cause suffering?

    Equally many creatures which are not the intended victim, die slow and painful deaths in traps. Again this would probably constitute an offence under the Animal Welfare Act.

    Organisation like the SGA are probably fully aware that the vast majority of members public in a modern, intelligent and humane society, find their activities barbaric and totally unacceptable.

    They are well aware that most of the public carry mobile phones with inbuilt cameras, so it has become all too easy for evidence of animals caught in traps to be properly documented.
    Hence, could this be a poorly judged attempt to try and hide their obnoxious and very questionable activities behind a piece of legislation. Hopefully the government will have sufficient “informed” members to see through this?

    Equally the SGA might feel as though its position has been diminished in the eyes of many gamekeepers, by the recent changes in legislation, which has caused a lot of expense to many shooting estates, as they have had to replace Fenn traps by more more expensive traps?
    Could it be a question then, of the SGA attempting to say to its members “Look- we know we failed to stop the changes in law which previously allowed you to set old barbaric traps, but we are still fighting for your interests- we will try and hoodwink parliament into making it an offence to tamper with traps – so please keep supporting us??”
    It is time these people accepted that the vast majority of society dislike what they do, and what they stand for!

    1. John – the background to the introduction of the new Spring Trap Approval Orders is a long and troubled story.

      The new Spring Trap Approval Orders and Wildlife Licences have not been updated because of the Animal Welfare Act. The STAOs and Licences have only been introduced because the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards was finally enacted by the UK government after a 4 year delay.

      To my knowledge, all other signatories to the AIHTS (the EU, US, Canada and Russia) complied with the deadline of July 2016 but the UK government was persuaded by the shooting industry to delay implementation. They argued that the unique circumstances in which gamekeepers use traps (in run-through tunnels on logs over streams) and the huge potential cost to (I think the phrase was) ‘small family run businesses” of changing to new traps (yes, I know!) meant that none of the traps available were suitable so a small number of traps were selected to be tested on animals.

      There had, of course, been a period of years, during the negotiations over the AIHTS, when country members were supposed to test the traps (and one of the main shooting lobby groups had suggested around that time that the DOC trap would be the obvious candidate). The ability of the DOC trap to kill the same species of stoat in the time period required by the AIHTS by a stroke to the back of the head rather than the back (ie a back-breakers) was already proved by that time as it was manufactured and used in New Zealand. That was well within the 2016 time limit. However, DOC traps were relatively expensive, were generally used in a dead-end configuration using bait rather than an unabated run through configuration and the box and trap set up was a little larger. Those issues raised by the lobbyists were enough for the government to agree to undertake tests – which they completed BEFORE the 2016 deadline.

      In January 2016 government representatives from (iirc) Scotland, England and Northern Ireland attended or listened in on a meeting organised by one of the main lobby groups which took the minutes. Apparently none of those officers took notes or kept any hand outs or presentations or asked or obtained those minutes the of meeting so Freedom of Information requests come up a blank and the lobby group have refused to release the minutes. I have, however, obtained some action targets.

      The government agreed to a whole host of demands of the lobbyists such as the new traps must be low cost, usable in a run-through configuration, etc etc. It took 3 years to negotiate the best traps and draw up new legislation. The Spring Trap Approval Orders were amended in 2019 but a year’s reprieve was drawn into the legislation to allow the shooting industry time to change.

      Interestingly the new approved traps, with the exception of the DOC trap do not comply with the criteria the shooting industry and Defra drew up in 2016. The two other traps cannot be used on logs on streams and the A24 trap cannot be set in a run-through configuration so all that extra time was a waste of time!

      If members of the SGA are unhappy at the UK finally complying with the AIHTS they shouldn’t be. All the lobby groups did a fantastic job at prevaricating, delaying and misdirecting the government agencies in the UK and EU for four years (on top of the 20 or so years of international negotiations!)

      In my opinion its a huge animal welfare scandal.

      Sorry for the long rant but this story is not widely known.

  11. To damage a trap , in any way , is obviously a criminal act and offence . Tampering and interference by springing or tripping a spring trap or closing the loop on a snare may not actually be a criminal offence . I can quote from a Tayside Police Officer who said , at a wildlife crime talk a few months back that tampering / intereference , ie , tripping spring traps ,is not actually a crime .However Police Scotland state that releasing birds from Larsen and crow traps is a criminal offence and that any tampering of traps in general is an offence . Very confusing to the public at large and possibly the Police struggle to understand the small print . Perhaps tripping a spring trap or closing a snare loop is not criminal but releasing birds from traps is ? Who knows ??

    1. At last I have a (modestly) encouraging point to make. Interfering with a trap in any way is a great annoyance to keepers. And the law is vague. When they suspect they have traps that are being deliberately tripped, or the safety catch put on…they simply move them. It is worth noting that any regular human proximity to stoat traps and fox snares massively reduces their effectiveness as the target animal is actually quite savvy, especially to smells. Hence keepers really don’t like checking them more than every two or three weeks – except as in log traps when they can be viewed from a distance on the quad. Keepers will be careful that when they do check them “hands on”, that their own hands do not pass on the smell of soap, deodorant, aftershave or laundry detergent. That their boots have not been splashed with anything like petrol or diesel or urine from their dogs or themselves. So, in a funny way…by merely getting up close to a trap on a daily walk (just to ensure that it remains legal)…a concerned walker is actually significantly inhibiting it’s effectiveness – probably by 50% at least, without even brushing close to the law.

  12. The SGA are not serious players in the public policy arena, a bit self-reinforcing because, understanding that, they just get more hysterical. Even so, there is a serious point here. The law on traps – in all its aspects – could do with being clearer. A ban on their use in the wild would be clear. I also think they might produce the odd bit of evidence. Even in lockdown, regular reports come in of illegally set traps. Where is the matching evidence of their destruction? Unlike walkers and others, the gamekeepers are permitted to be out all day every day. The could carry a camera with them, I suppose. I accept that some people may ‘interfere’ with traps, I wonder just how much of the stuff I see, for example on the BDGS Facebook page is just bravado. I’m not sure that Colin of Croydon did too many traps in recently. And with no recent images of ‘interfered with’ traps to set against the continuing flow of timed, dated and located images of illegal traps, what weight would any rational person give to the SGA’s pleadings.

  13. I think we should encourage the SGA to make this campaign more public. Until a few years ago, before I was aware of what happens on grouse estates, I thought that all spring traps and snares were illegal. If more and more people are aware that it is still allowed to use these horrible devices, the more the light of public scrutiny will be shone on these activities.

  14. If they absolutely have to have the things, is there a case that traps should be identified? That might be a unique number solidly fixed and clearly visible, and an RFID chip embedded within the structure. Both would be allocated to one named individual on one estate. This individual held responsible for use and maintenance, including the label and tag. If they want to make claims about damage, let them demonstrate title and responsible ownership and use.

    1. If they absolutely have to have the things———————-nobody needs these things,please carry on interfering with them and reporting them–they belong in the dark ages.

    2. I agree with you, but the shooting advocates have money and influence to support their approach. If they should succeed, and I hope they won’t, then let us suggest that they take some responsibility.

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