Stoat killed in illegal trap on grouse moor in Teesdale

There’s an article in the Northern Echo today reporting the discovery of a dead stoat in an illegally-set Fenn trap on an unnamed Durham grouse moor.

A member of the public had found the stoat and reported it to the League Against Cruel Sports, who reported it to Durham Police.

[Dead stoat caught in illegal Fenn trap on unnamed Teesdale grouse moor, photo via Northern Echo]

An unnamed spokesperson for Durham Constabulary said:

We received reports of a suspected illegal Fenn trap in the Teesdale area and on investigation, found it was illegal and the trap subsequently removed by the landowner.

We would like to remind all those concerned that following new legislation that came into effect on April 1, 2020, the use of Fenn traps and all copycat designs have now been made illegal to trap stoats.

We would encourage landowners to comply and remove any traps that are illegal if they have not already done so.

If members of the public should see any traps which they think are illegal they can contact us by calling 101.”

We’ve blogged previously about the new rules for trapping stoats (see here).

We know that Fenn traps have also been found set in position on other grouse moors since the traps became illegal and we’re aware that at least some of these have been reported to various police forces.

It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes before someone is actually charged with an offence for continuing to use these now-illegal traps for killing stoats, rather than the landowner simply being ‘encouraged to comply’ with the law.

35 thoughts on “Stoat killed in illegal trap on grouse moor in Teesdale”

  1. This is hardly surprising given the fact that many estates had hundreds of these now illegal traps out and the record of compliance with other regulations within this industry. One wonders if in other walks of life none compliance with a new law would engender the same response from the police. I suspect some forces may be very reluctant to take such cases forward but one can but hope. Any finding such traps should nay must rep[ort them, such pressure may result in the police taking firmer action.

  2. So the police have confirmed it is an illegal trap and that the landowner has removed it. Sounds like they are gearing up to let him off with a warning.

  3. The bastards have had 66 years to comply with the law regarding raptors, so why the hell should we expect them to comply with this one?

    1. The Spring Traps Approval (England) Order 2018 (STAO) came into force on 1st January 2019 (I know – confusing!). It set out the traps which could be used to kill (amongst other animals) stoat.

      The STAO was the legislation introduced by the UK government designed to comply with the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (STAO). This was an international agreement intended to identify and enforce use of more humane traps for a select group of animals routinely used by the fur industry. The AIHTS identified, amongst other things, a range of targets for speed of loss of consciousness and death for different types of traps and snares and, in the UK, the only animal covered by the AIHTS was the stoat.

      The STAO 2018 (England) set out three traps for immediate use (from 1st January 2019) with stoats which (I assume) complied with the AIHTS. They were the Goodnature A24 trap, various DOC traps and the Tully trap. Other back-breaker traps such as the Fenn Trap, Solway, Springer, Kania and WCS Tube Trap which do not comply with the AIHTS criteria (for pain and speed of loss of consciousness and death) were not immediately banned but, instead, the STAO (England) permitted the use of these traps for stoat “before 1st April 2020”.

      In other words, the shooting industry was given a year’s reprieve to change their traps to the 3 AIHTS compliant traps. This was despite the fact that the AIHTS was supposed to be implemented by all international signatories (including the UK government) in July 2016 so the UK government had already (even at that stage) helped delay a change to AIHTS compliant traps by 2 1/2 years! Or, to put it another way, the UK government (in total) delayed and delayed its obligation to comply with the (July 2016) AIHTS for over 3 1/2 years (until 1st April 2020)! How many industries are given that sort of assistance in complying with legislation!

      This was well known amongst the shooting industry because the lobby groups were proudly publicising their success in persuading the UK government to repeatedly delay implementation of the AIHTS.

      There simply are no excuses. The shooting industries have had years to change to the new traps and they’ve had over a year to get to grips with the new legislation.

      I say – Prosecute! Prosecute! Prosecute!

  4. Removing the trap was not enough. Given the widespread publicity prior to them being made illegal … and the exposure on social media … those responsible should have been charged and had their firearms licence removed upon conviction.
    That’ll stop them instead of this “pretend” enforcement.

  5. Fenn traps are not illegal, it is illegal to set them to target stoats, it is not therefore illegal to catch a stoat in a fenn trap if it was unintentional. Fenn traps can still be set for and used to kill such animals as brown rats and grey squirrels, and that is what the vast majority are set to catch. So a Fenn trap is not defacto illegal, they can still be used perfectly legally. Calling the police every time one is seen set is wasting their time and resources.

    1. When the new law came in GWCT issued the advice that in areas where stoats occur it would be impossible to exclude them from traps set for weasels or rats and they should therefore be replaced. I would contend under those circumstances that a trap in areas where stoats occur and that traps a stoat is illegal, there is no discussion of intent in the rules, catch a stoat in a Fenn and you have committed an offence intent or not.

    2. Hmm – let’s pretend you’re right. This landowner was trying to catch weasels and rats.

      The trouble is that weasels and rats are smaller than stoats so, even if the landowner was trying to catch these animals, the entrance to the cage should have been small enough to prevent a stoat from being able to enter the cage holding the trap.

      Let’s look at the latest Spring Traps Approval Order (England) 2018 which sets out the rules that users in England are required, by law, to follow when using government-approved legal spring traps (ie “approved traps” or “the approvals” as the legislation refers to them).

      According to S2
      “(2) The approvals … are subject in all cases to the conditions that … (b) so far as is practicable without unreasonably compromising its use for killing or taking target species, the trap must be used in a manner that minimises the likelihood of its killing, taking or injuring non-target species;
      and to such further conditions (if any) as to the animals for which, and the circumstances in which, the spring trap may be used as are specified in … the Schedule”

      So that tunnel entrance definitely was too large. In fact, all those tunnels used by grouse shooting estates to house the spring traps they used to target stoats (prior to the new legislation) must be replaced! And that was something that the shooting lobby groups know.

      Let’s look at the Schedule the legislation refers to:
      Fenn Vermin Trap Mark IV (Heavy Duty)
      Fenn Vermin Trap Mark VI (Dual Purpose)
      The conditions of use for both of these types of trap are that:
      “The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing grey squirrels, weasels, rats, mice, other small ground vermin (except for those species listed in Schedule 5 or 6 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) and, before 1st April 2020, stoat.
      The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose.”
      Let’s look at the state of that tunnel. What a mess! There is a huge gap at the side allowing access to the tunnel and trap by non-target animals. The side panel is hopelessly inadequate sticking out of the frame of the tunnel in the way it was and, clearly, was not “suitable for the purpose”. Clearly it allowed access to the trap by that poor stoat.

      So, let’s explore your comment that “Fenn traps can still be set for and used to kill such animals as brown rats and grey squirrels, and that is what the vast majority are set to catch.”

      Yes they can but most spring traps on grouse shooting estates are set on logs running across streams. That’s hardly squirrel country is it? In any event, the shooting industry has always acknowledged that these traps were targeting stoats. They have argued that since the early 1990s when the Agreement of International Humane Trapping Standards (which brought about this legislative change) was first muted! They made a huge fuss about the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards because they said the cost of removing the spring traps and tunnels used to trap stoats on shooting estates would be extortionate. Shooting estates can’t now suddenly cry that they’re not targeting stoat but rats! Even if that was correct, they’d have to change all those tunnels.

      So, let’s try and be honest. This looks like there is a genuine case to argue that a crime may have taken place ie that an approved trap (ie the Fenn trap) was illegally used to target stoats and that the tunnel which was used was not set up in a legal way.

    3. They are clearly set to catch stoats when set on logs crossing streams on a grousemoor.

  6. Fenn traps can still be used for weasels and rats so if a stoat is killed in one then that is their ” get out of jail ” excuse . I doubt if any police force will try for a conviction when the perpetrator will shrug shoulders and say it was accidental and not intended . A total ban on Fenn traps would clear any confusion but as usual it has become a grey area with various interpretations as to the legal aspect . Typical fudge of a serious issue which remains open ended .

  7. I completely disagree with the ban on Fenns for Stoats, theres 2 types of Fenn mark 4 for Rats and mark 6 for mink and rabbits, the mark 6 is more than capable of killing a Stoat as humanely as possible, just look at the photo, I would think that that Stoat would be dead within seconds. Its still legal to set them for mink which are a much larger animal, why stop them just for Stoats, seems a stupid rule.

    1. Disagree or not that is the state of play, the rules state quite clearly it is now illegal to catch stoats in Fenn traps.

    2. Again – wrong, wrong, wrong!

      Fenn Traps are not humane traps!

      The Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) was first agreed in 1998 following huge anti-fur campaigns exposing the cruel trapping techniques used to kill the unfortunate victims. One of the aims of the AIHTS was to lay down harmonised technical standards to, supposedly, offer a sufficient level of welfare protection to trapped animals.

      During the period 1998-2016 various bodies undertook horrific experiments on animals covered by the AIHTS. The lengthy reports of the results make REALLY depressing reading but, to summarise, back-breaking traps like the Fenn traps (and all the other traps now banned for use with stoats) were found to take the longest to cause unconsciousness and to kill the target animals and resulted in the worst injuries for animals not killed by the traps.

      There are three spring traps which meet the AIHTS criteria for “humane” killing of iirc 80% of victims. The approved traps that can now be used to kill stoats are:

      The DOC traps, the A24 traps and the Tilly traps. These smash the head and neck areas (rather than the back) and thus ensure that the animal is at least unconscious (in 80% of cases) within a very short period of time prior to death.

      BTW, Fenn Traps are NOT approved for use with mink. Look up the law! You’ll find that these are the animals which Fenn traps can now be used to trap and, hopefully, kill quickly:

      “The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing grey squirrels, weasels, rats, mice, other small ground vermin (except for those species listed in Schedule 5 or 6 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981)”

      It’s quite simple. Fenn traps and other back-breakers are inhumane, cruel traps!

    1. Simon you must have the fantasy glasses on again or are they rose tinted, don’t make your self to look so much like a bloody fool unless of course that is your intention.

      1. I’m intrigued Paul V Irving why you’re so adamant that it’s a genuine stoat kill – did you plant it? It’s a taxidermy, man, or ‘bloody fool’ to use your words…

        1. The only “bloody fools” here are those who’re stupid enough to think they’re fooling anyone with their pathetic speculation and denial.

        2. If and it seems very likely this is the dead stoat in trap reported to the police it is not a plant. then we on this side of the fence (legal side) are constantly harangued by folk like you that things are a plant, be that as here a stoat in a trap or a dead raptor in suspicious circumstances. To put it simply we do not we do not need to and it is too great a risk to any the reputation of any of us or the organisations we may or may not represent. Reputation is everything and once lost we may as well all be lost. SO ITS NOT AN EFFING PLANT,I shall refrain from being insulting but it is a very insulting suggestion but then it was meant to be.

        3. I’m intrigued Justin xxxxxxx why you’re so adamant that it’s a genuine taxidermy – did you plant it, man? or “bloody fool’ to use your words…

    2. Hmm Simon. Let’s examine that.

      The Durham Constabulary spokesperson said:

      “We received reports of a suspected illegal Fenn trap in the Teesdale area and on investigation, found it was illegal and the trap subsequently removed by the landowner.”

      Now, how could that trap be illegal if the stoat in it was a taxidermy?! Really!

      Fenn traps aren’t illegal if they are used correctly but the police said the Fenn trap was illegal – didn’t they. Do you think they’re making that up or that they’re involved in some kind of conspiracy with the LACS and that the landowner fell for their sneaky scheme!

      Of course, in the real world, what that quote shows is that the trap was either not suitable (as required under the terms of the conditions of use set out in the Schedule of traps in the Spring Traps Approval Order 2018 or the cage was not designed to keep out non-target species as required under S2(2)(b) of the STAO 2018 (England).

      You choose.

    3. You name may or may not be Simon, but your comment certainly isn’t genuine. That’s a shootist troll.

  8. Fenn traps aren’t illegal, they’re illegal to use to catch stoats. I would be grateful if you would clarify that to your audience, a group of us are involved in trying to remove INNS mink from various catchments, we already suffer from the actions of people who think they’re acting conscientiously by damaging both fenn and live cage traps, but aren’t they’re actually negatively impacting on conservation efforts and putting more pressure on species we’re trying to protect.

    [Ed: Thanks river man. Blog readers may also be interested in reading another GWCT webpage which provides an update about the new trapping regs from 1 April 2020 and states:

    The popular Fenn-type trap, and the BMI bodygrip remain a legal for weasels, after 1 April, but trappers must reduce excluder apertures on any boxes/rails that remain with these traps to minimise the risk of stoat capture. Because of the overlap in body size between weasels and stoats, it is very unlikely that a physical excluder can be devised that will allow weasels to pass through while excluding stoats. We therefore urge trappers to fully embrace change and demonstrate full compliance with the law by switching to new generation stoat traps for both species. (Emphasis by RPUK)

    The old traps will also remain legal for rats and grey squirrels, but there are surely very few situations where a keeper can target these species in full confidence that there is no risk of catching a stoat. Trapping in the roof space of the keeper’s house might be an exception, but stoats will enter barns and farm buildings. They are also good climbers, so even grey squirrel traps in purpose-built boxes sited in trees remain a grey area, and anyone who takes a chance is surely at risk of becoming a test case.

    1. It’s quite funny, I and others exchanged a few friendly comments on previous blog posts, and I said I was certain that they would carry on using Fenn Mk4’s for stoats…but I said they would just re-locate them back into tunnels within the drystone walls, out of eyesight. I had noticed some near me had been moved. Well, I was right and was wrong…it seems these buggers can’t even be arsed to hide them even for appearances sake! It just shows that they have no respect for this law, and why would they when we can bet the copper has merely said something like “you shouldn’t really be doing that”. Incidentally, I think that particular stoat will have been killed almost instantly as that was a perfect catch. Shame that only happens one in three or four times that some creature (of any species, fur or feather) steps on the trap-plate.

    2. I will continue to use fenns for mink as they are sited where the only access if from the water. With an appropriately sized opening that excludes otters, and stoat/weasel won’t enter from the water. The only by-catch that would be concerning are water voles. Sadly we’re still some way from being anywhere near getting the habitat right and excluding mink completely to worry about that yet. Cage traps are obviously preferable but distance needed to travel for them to be checked at least twice a day, and they’re also more easily spotted and so are often vandalised by the ‘fairies’ prevents them being the only option. To-date, the only ever non-target caught have been rats, as the traps aren’t just randomly placed, but are used where there is mink activity. It would be super if you highlighted that, just because someone sees either a fenn or a cage trap, doesn’t necessarily mean they are being used either illegally nor for the protection of game birds. The amount we’re getting damaged is pretty demoralising considering our effort is in our own time and using our own money.

      1. river man

        Dear oh dear. Don’t you know its a criminal offence to kill water voles?!

        Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 S9
        9 Protection of certain wild animals.

        (1) Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person intentionally kills, injures or takes any wild animal included in Schedule 5, he shall be guilty of an offence.

        Water voles are on that list.

        Tut. Tut.

        1. Not supporting River man (although i do support the eradication of mink) but the key word is ‘intentional’

    3. river man

      The post that you have given a link to outlines the history and new types of traps which can be used in compliance with the AIHTS. It has nothing to do with, and neither does it discuss, Fenn traps or catching mink!

      The STAO 2018 (England) is clear. Fenn traps can no longer be used to catch stoats and they can’t be used to catch other mammals not included in the list of target animals for each type of trap. Mink are not listed as target animals which can be trapped using Fenn traps. You shouldn’t be using Fenn traps. It’s illegal.

      If you’d care to tell us where you’re setting your traps I’m sure the League Against Cruel Sports investigation team would be very interested.

  9. The question has to asked- that the fact that it is illegal to use a Fenn trap to kill a stoat, and that a dead stoat has been found in a Fenn trap, – shouldn’t that have been sufficient evidence to indicate a realistic success for a prosecution to proceed ,based on the available evidence and the law?

    It is therefore hugely disappointing that Durham Constabulary have not decided not to proceed further with this.

    If the landowner has been identified, then it should have been possible to identify which of the game keepers working for that estate set the trap?

    By simply allowing the landowner to remove the trap -what message does this send to game keepers and grouse moor owners about how seriously the police take wildlife crimes?

    Where do the police draw the line with other wildlife crimes?

    If it’s okay to illegally kill stoats in traps which have become illegal for the killing of stoats, then where does that leave more vulnerable species? Or raptors?

    What message does this send to the public, who report wildlife crimes?
    Will this decision motivate the public to report wildlife crimes in the future?
    Why would the public bother if no formal action is going to be taken?
    Isn’t Operation Owl, based on encouraging the public to report wildlife crimes on grouse moors?

    If one consults the RSPB raptor interactive map of raptor persecution- Teesdale has a number of moors where there have been numerous incidents of reported crimes against raptors.

    It is accepted by the College of Policing that when dealing with criminality – criminals who commit the more serious crimes, are often involved in incidents of antisocial behaviour or commit less serious offences.
    I would suspect this pattern of offending is also mirrored with wildlife crimes, and those that are committing the more serious wildlife crimes, will also be ignoring other regulations and codes of practice?

    So the fact that this particular landowner has failed to fully comply with the regulations, and codes of practice, which have been well publicised by the various bodies representing the grouse moor owners, may well be an indication that more sinister activity is actually taking place?

    Many grouse moor estates have gone to considerable expense to remove all the Fenn traps on the moors they manage and replace them with the new traps, which cost considerable more.
    Are the police by taking no formal action creating “an economic level playing field” in which the grouse shooting industry operates?

    A prosecution in this case would have sent a strong message- that wildlife crime- in whatever guise- will not be tolerated?

    The decision simply to allow the land owner to remove the trap does not appear to be a good decision for many reasons: and it would be interesting to know the rational behind Durham Constabularies decision simply to let the landowner remove the trap.?

    1. Hi John, it’s only my opinion but in south west northumberland at least and north west co. durham the police and the keepers and landowners are very friendly. They work closely day to day on general rural crime like farm break-ins, quad bike thefts, fuel thefts, lamping & and generally keeping their idyllic villages free of harassment from the ne’er do wells travelling in from a few miles east. They are not going to want to compromise that partnership. Just my observation.

  10. I guess no one will get the full story on what exactly happened here. My understanding is that Durham Constabulary don’t have dedicated wildlife crime officers, so it would be interesting to know on what basis the attending officers deemed the trap “illegal”.

    That being said, assuming all is as it appears in the photograph, a mk4 fenn remaining set as a “rail trap” on a drystone wall in a moorland environment after 1 April 2020, then the person responsible for that should be answering serious questions.

    On the wider issue of the legality of the continued use of “fenn” traps set for other species, it would be helpful if comments were moderated appropriately. While Lizziebusy clearly enjoys a google search and a cut and paste, what she has failed to clarify is the difference between the mk4 and mk6 fenn traps. I anticipate this may because she doesn’t understand it herself. The importantance here is that the mk6 remains legal for use to target mink. Whether it’s a suitable trap is another discussion, but as others have commented, we should be dealing with the clear legal position where possible.

    Set as river man has suggested, or on a gwct design mink raft, then a mk6 fenn can arguably be set to target mink while carrying very little risk of catching a stoat.

    As a final point, in the context of mink and the newly approved traps. While some have been approved for targeting mink, I question whether the required aperture dimensions for the required tunnel would admit a full grown male mink to allow it to reach the trap plate…

  11. I have arrived very late to the discussion but I am currently doing an MSc in Ecology and doing a piece of coursework on mink removal. If there’s ground nesting birds, such as grouse in this area. It’s highly likely that the target for the trap was mink. I’ve been reading through the Spring Order schedules and although the Fenn Mark IV has been removed from mink and stoat the Mark VI is still listed as a viable option for mink. Live trapping is obviously the better solution to avoid catching non-target species but if you have a large range to cover it is impossible to check every trap twice a day. Leaving animals confined in a small space for an extensive period could be considered crueler than an instant death. I think the solution would be to prove that mink are in the area before being allowed to set up the traps. I think the blame for all of this is on the fur industry.

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