The widespread mis-use of crow cage traps to trap & kill birds of prey

RSPB Investigations Officer Guy Shorrock published an insightful blog yesterday (‘Cage traps in the spotlight across the UK’) detailing the ongoing and widespread mis-use and abuse of crow cage traps, often used by criminal gamekeepers to trap and kill raptors, sometimes deliberately and sometimes through reckless negligence.

His blog provided details of an incident in Wales in April last year, and I don’t recall seeing any media coverage of this case. The following text is reproduced directly from Guy’s blog:

A case from April last year again highlights our concerns. A member of public found a crow cage trap on sheep grazing farmland in North Wales containing a buzzard, a red kite and multiple crows. The finder released all the birds and reported it to us.

As with all cage traps outside Scotland, without marking and registration it can far more difficult, often impossible, to identify the trap operator. A visit by my colleague Niall Owen confirmed the presence of a lamb carcass, which should have been properly disposed of and not used as bait, along with two carrion crows. A week later the trap held two crows and a buzzard plus the bodies of two further crows. To identify a trap operator, and to determine whether the licence conditions were being complied with, a covert camera was installed for a couple of days. At this point, there was no clear contravention of the licence conditions. The buzzard was in good health, so it was left in situ and provided with fresh water and food just in case visits were not made. One dead crow was seized and sent off for a post-mortem. Two days later the buzzard was still present, thankfully alive and well, so was released unharmed. We informed North Wales Police who identified the farmer operating the trap and ensured it was rendered incapable of trapping.

[Buzzard caught inside the cage trap, photo by Niall Owen, RSPB. This bird was released by the RSPB when it became clear the trap was not being operated lawfully]

The post-mortem on the carrion crow confirmed the bird had died of starvation, confirming further breaches of the licence conditions and animal welfare regulations. Had the original finder and ourselves not released the trapped birds, we fear they would have met the same fate. This case was about negligence rather than any deliberate targeting of birds of prey, and following the police investigation, the operator was given a Community Resolution Order. This had a requirement that they could not operate cage traps until a suitable course has been attended.

Guy’s blog is timely as we await the sentencing of a gamekeeper who has recently been convicted of killing two buzzards in a cage trap in Nottinghamshire (see here). The RSPB has what Guy describes as ‘graphic footage’ filmed on a covert camera showing exactly how the gamekeeper used the trap to catch and then kill two buzzards. I understand the RSPB will release this video evidence after sentencing next week.

I’d encourage you to read Guy’s blog in full (here) to understand the different approaches being deployed (or not) to address these offences in England, Scotland and Wales and how members of the public can help catch the killers.

14 thoughts on “The widespread mis-use of crow cage traps to trap & kill birds of prey”

  1. I would imagine that checking all the snares and traps on a daily basis would be a huge task on some grounds so one could be forgiven for thinking that this kind of willful,( or otherwise), neglect would be commonplace.

    1. Yes, but visits every 24 hours or less is the law. If you can’t comply with the law don’t set the traps. Once every day is also too fee visits to ensure that endangered and protected animals aren’t suffering.

  2. 100% of crows agree that killing a crow is just as wrong as killing a buzzard. The lambs would like to mention that they don’t enjoy slaughter much either.

    With the changes to subsidies, hopefully in the future there will be fewer sheep farmers and therefore less unnecessary killing of everything: buzzards, crows and sheep.

  3. One of these springtimes I would like to see the RSPB make a highly publicised appeal among its Reserve-regular members to get out into the more remote areas with their hi-spec spotting scopes & binos, etc and seek out as many crow traps as possible and photograph them. The RSPB could host a reporting portal a bit like they do with heather burning. I’m not suggesting anybody should interfere with these traps in any way, but to win the case for regulation there needs to be a survey of just how many there are out there and just how carelessly they are usually – but in fairness not always – (mis)managed. Not to mention those dozens of traps out there right now that are set up for deliberate petsecution of BoP.

      1. Hi Steve, yes it would include everybody including RSPB and any regional wildlife trusts. I would ban the use of live decoy birds and clam traps completely, but retain tightly regulated (with strong enforcement) use of the large crow traps. I think all trap locations and all trappers should be on a licensing scheme. Agree with you about the futility of my call to action – the RSPB top brass wouldn’t want the political conflict it creates and your average Reserve- birder is generally a mild personality type and wouldn’t relish the face to face conflict they would get from keepers, which is a shame but also understandable.

  4. Why are they still allowed to operate these cage traps, why are we as a country issuing licences to these people with a sole purpose of catching birds?
    It serves absolutely no purpose except for the persecution of birds again.
    We in this country have some barbarian laws that allow people to murder, and kill birds of all kinds, and it seems that this practice is legally allowed to take place.
    I would kind of understand if birds were being trapped for the purpose of food, and although I would not do this personally, and would rather go hungry, they are not doing it for food, they are doing it for fun, or something to do.
    We need to stop this wanton destruction of wildlife.
    With gun toting xxxxxxx who can’t differentiate between a grouse and a buzzard, and don’t understand the laws regarding killing birds of prey, and farmers also just randomly killing birds for the sake of it in traps and cages, and this practice is lawful apparently.
    We need a government who can stand up to these xxxxxxx, and put a stop to all this destruction of birds and wildlife, but all we have from the BBC and other media is witch hunting regarding trivial matters, like did someone have a few drinks socially distanced, and other such things which have no importance to the real world, but instead play to the hunters of so called rights, if every single person in the UK could actually state that they didn’t break any lock down rules without impunity then I would understand the uproar, but I can say that probably 90% + didn’t follow the rules.
    There are too many people jumping on the band waggon and shouting tehe odds about things that can not be changed, things that happened over a year ago, and nothing done or said at this point will change what happened.
    So the BBC need to get onto the problem of birds of prey being killed by grouse shooting moors, and farmers.
    There are far too many incidents involving the grouse moors that are not being fixed, and not being challenged.

  5. I remember a RSPB video from some years back where a staff member mentioned such traps that looked as if they were meant to capture eagle sized ‘crows’ on estates that happened to have golden eagles.

  6. Crow traps are evil things .RSPB use them to keep down the numbers of covids on some of their reserves . They naturally say that their use is regulated as per the law , but I would lay my life on the fact that for every one Crow trap monitored legally there will be 20 such traps that are not .
    I have lived in the country all my life and unfortunately come into contact with these vile contraptions every spring . I let the birds go free , but have seen enough to know that the vast majority are not tended daily and I have witnessed some appalling acts of dire cruelty to these highly intelligent birds .
    Many farmers and landowners are extremely dismissive of the lives of these sentient creatures , seeing them only as vermin who deserve to suffer .
    The sooner that these ghastly horrible traps are made illegal the better .

    1. It’s very distressing that the RSPB lead by example.Love Nature is it’s strap line, but it’s very selective about which members of that collective it loves.
      It’s shameful that such a huge charity cannot recognise the connections in nature, focussing on preferred birds in favour of the big picture.

      [Ed: final sentence deleted, Steve. What you’re suggesting people do would be illegal]

    2. Yes unfortunately your right. I always say there is no such thing as vermin in the animal kingdom. Humans in the other hand……

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