A wave of vandalism targeting legally placed traps and snares is hitting the Scottish countryside, studies have shown.
Conservation equipment has been tampered with or stolen, with few incidents reported to the authorities. This form of predator control is a vital, legal tool for gamekeepers, pest controllers and farmers to use on their land to protect livestock, and contributes to the conservation of endangered wildlife species, such as the curlew. The study, conducted by BASC Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government, is the first of its kind and will be published shortly, and has revealed that this problem has become widespread.
The Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland (PAW Scotland) has issued information to aid those who many unintentionally stumble upon snares and traps in the countryside. The website clearly states that regardless of whether the trap is legally set or otherwise, the by-stander must not touch the trap or attempt to free any captured animals. To do so could be a criminal act in itself, as some animals may not be released back in to the wild should they be caught, such as the grey squirrel. Damage of legally set traps could be considered criminal vandalism and hampers legitimate conservation efforts.
On the other hand, if a member of the public believes the trap does not follow legal guidelines, the police have been clear. Andrew Mavin, Police Scotland Wildlife Crime Coordinator, said: “Any members of the public who have concerns over the possible illegal use of traps and snares in the countryside should get in touch with Police Scotland and ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer. Depending on the circumstances, interfering with otherwise legal traps and snares could be an offence, as well as the possibility that such action may be harmful to both themselves and wildlife.”
The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has been very vocal on the subject, reminding the public that gamekeepers undergo training to use such traps. Tampering with traps could result in a damaged trap capturing a non-target animal with dire consequences, which would be shouldered by the gamekeeper in question through no fault of their own. The SGA has complained that police are reluctant to pursue cases of trap vandalism as offences of this nature are “vague”, ungoverned by the strict legislation limiting trap setting.
Alex Hogg, chairman of the SGA, was very concerned by the police’s current stance: “If someone can potentially have the ability to do their job taken away by the actions of someone else tampering with legal property, that is clearly wrong and the anomaly has to be levelled out in law… Whether it is one case, ten or fifty, there needs to be a clear offence to deal with this, or better use of powers available, just as there are robust offences for breaches by trap operators. Responsible access has to be about mutual fairness.”
BASC Scotland is urging those who have evidence of trap vandalism or theft to contact their local Wildlife Crime Officer, and to contact firstname.lastname@example.org with their findings.