Barn owl found dead in a crow cage trap on an Angus Glens grouse moor

Over the weekend I was advised that a barn owl had reportedly been found dead inside a crow cage trap situated on a grouse moor in the notorious raptor persecution hotspot, the Angus Glens.

The discovery was apparently made during the first week of January 2023.

I understand the trap was tagged with the operator’s registration number (now a legal requirement in Scotland) and that the trap had not been disabled (i.e. the door hadn’t been removed/padlocked open) and so as far as the law is concerned, the trap was considered to be in-use, which means the trap operator has a legal obligation to check the trap at least once every 24 hours and release any non-target species. The General Licence conditions also state, ‘A check must be sufficient to determine whether there are any live or dead birds or other animals in the trap‘.

Barn owl. Photo: Anan Kaewkhammul

I asked Police Scotland to confirm the details of this case, whether a police search had been undertaken, if so, when, and what the current status is of the investigation?

After some hesitation, this afternoon a police spokesperson provided the following statement:

The incident has been reported to police and enquiries are ongoing“.

There’s more to this case than meets the eye. Watch this space…

UPDATE 19th January 2023: This blog article was picked up by The Courier, here

8 thoughts on “Barn owl found dead in a crow cage trap on an Angus Glens grouse moor”

  1. No surprise
    A similar incident happened near me when an owl was caught in a crow trap and released by a passer by-thank goodness.
    Game keepers need to be law abiding -maybe that’s an oxymoron

  2. I have encountered some extremely distressing scenes of abject cruelty in these vile cages .
    I have released trapped kestrel and rooks dying of hunger/ thirst / heat exposure several times .
    These hideous traps are so often unchecked because they are intended for ‘ evil corvids ‘ that need to die in as many numbers as possible . Gamekeepers and landowners alike repeat the same old mantra
    I know that the RSPB use them and that there are very strict regulations regarding their use , but who monitors them ?
    They are very often hidden from public view , no-one apart from the person who sets them up is aware of their existence .

    [Ed: Thanks, Rosemary. Just for clarity in case others aren’t aware, the removal of birds from legally-set traps, by members of the public, is a legal minefield and the person may face prosecution for criminal damage. Much depends on the specific circumstances, the condition/species of bird in the trap, perceived level of injury and/or suffering, whether or not there is a phone signal to ask for help/advice. My advice, for what it’s worth, is 1. Phone the police, SSPCA (especially if animal is suffering) and RSPB; 2. Take photos/video, especially showing the wider location/landscape; 3. If official bodies unable to offer immediate assistance, take action yourself and record what you’re doing, if you can. Make notes as soon as you can after the event to justify your actions]

  3. Surely if the operators reg number is on the tag then there’s no question of who to prosecute so the police should have no problem in dealing with this?!….but bearing in mind if a fine is issued it will be no big deal for the landowners to pay as the price paid by the shooters for just one peg on one shoot on that estate will more than cover it!

    1. The key question is how long had the bird been dead? If it can be conclusively shown that it had been dead for more than 24 hours then yes there would seem to be a prima facie case for prosecution.

  4. From my understanding of the legislation, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 would apply to a barn owl caught in a crow trap, as the owl is deemed to be under the control of man.
    The operator of the trap would thus be responsible for the welfare of the owl.
    It is an offence under Sect 4 of the act to cause unnecessary suffering to the owl.
    However as is often the case with wildlife legislation and its application, instead of the legislation being simple to bring a prosecution, there appears to be some get out of jail cards.
    In deeming whether the suffering was unnecessary I understand consideration should be given to as to whether the conduct which resulted in the suffering resulted from compliance with other legislation or the provision of a licence code.
    The provisions of the licence relating to the use of traps is something I understand should be taken into consideration in deciding whether the suffering was unnecessary.
    However, it may be prudent to establish the exact cause of death of any bird which has died in a trap, and whether the trap contained sufficient food, water and shelter for any trapped bird, and I would also suggest consideration should be given to the weather conditions at the time.
    Surely, one must the question whether during periods of winter weather, when the weather is likely to subject any trapped animal/bird to an increased risk of suffering, should checks of the trap be carried out more frequently than once every 24 hours?
    Hopefully which ever police officer is given this incident to investigate, will seek professional expert advice, and have a proper discussion with the procurator fiscal.
    This is fairly new legislation so hopefully there is the scope to test the law through the courts? (Ruth, as this is live investigation- I will understand if you need to edit as appropriate, but I have tried to keep my comment generic?)

    1. Not only should the weather at the time of setting the trap be taken into account but also due consideration should be given to the forecast for the ensuing 24 hours. If there is uncertainty, better not to set the trap at all. With the current extreme conditions in some places I wonder how many trapped creatures have perished through adverse weather preventing traps being checked according to the requirements or simply due to them being prevented from seeking shelter through being confined in a trap in an exposed situation. The shelter provision on many crow traps I have seen is nothing more than a token effort, being insufficient to provide protection in normal conditions – let alone in extreme weather.

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