Larsen Mate: Not so Friendly

The  controversy concerning the legal implications of the Larsen mate or clam trap raises some interesting questions regarding the use of all our legal methods and engines used to control vermin. Keeping our own house in order is of course of the utmost importance and we must not risk the future use of these valuable tools, or indeed tarnish game preservation by their misuse. Deliberate or not, the end result will be the same.

The Larsen mate is extremely helpful in catching the initial call bird to kick the corvid trapping season off. Many keepers over winter a call bird from the previous year (Judas being a popular pet name for the captive), and have a head start on those of us who do not. Begging and later swapping call birds with a colleague is also an option and an unfamiliar call bird of course increases the catch rate. Nevertheless the Larsen mate is an essential item for those keepers situated in remote areas, especially hill keepers.

Baiting is the key issue; the Larsen mate, despite its detractors, is quite catch-specific species-wise, especially if baited with eggs. Using dead rabbits as carrion baits will still attract and catch the targeted corvids, but it will be just as interesting to carrion-eating, non-targeted raptors such as buzzards and red kites. Using egg baits alone will limit the trap, making it seasonally specific to the spring when corvids are actively hunting for nests, but we must not forget that the Larsen mate was designed for that purpose alone.

Large cage traps using ladder or funnel entry systems have proven extremely effective at catching both flock living and solitary corvid species throughout the year. You could, quite rightly, argue that carrion baited cage traps still occasionally live catch raptors as incidentals. This is true, but raptor capture is a much less frequent occurrence in cages compared to the clam trap. And by baiting the latter with carrion, it could be argued that you are pushing the purpose of the engine past reasonable acceptance of its designed use. The Larsen mate is just that: an aid to the efficiency of the Larsen trap, used under the Larsen ‘umbrella’.

Thanks to recent televised negative propaganda and downright misleading statements against gamekeepers and game bird preservation, some who uphold the law are now suggesting the Larsen mate is actually an illegal engine.

Trawling the web for further information I found the SGA website’s news section said this: “Gamekeepers who use the popular Larsen mate or clam trap are warned that some Wildlife Crime Officers are now claiming the widely used and marketed device is illegal and have recently cautioned at least eight operators.

“The SGA is now fighting on all fronts for the future of the device and is in discussion with the Scottish Government about the unacceptable unilateral approach of police officers without any discussion with the industry. The trap is used for the legitimate and legal pursuit of corvid control and is simply a progression in design of the original Larsen trap. However, until the matter is resolved the SGA recommends that members do not use a Larsen Mate or clam trap.

“In a letter to Government, SGA Chairman Alex Hogg stated: “As full members of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime the SGA should have been fully consulted about any change in interpretation of the law or the withdrawal from legal use of an important piece of equipment. It is not the remit of individual officers to make up the law as they go about their business. The confusion they have created is counterproductive to a good working relationship between professional gamekeepers and the police and requires to be cleared up at once.”

“In a subsequent letter the SGA pointed out that the trap used the same spring mechanism as a Larsen and was a live capture trap, allowing non-target species to be released in a similar way to the larger device. There have been no reports of any birds being injured by the trap.

The letter concludes: “We have a vital role to play in the conservation of our native species and their habitat. To carry out this role we need the tools which are most effective. Changes to these tools are from time to time essential and new methods must be developed in response to emerging management challenges.”

Quite right too: the SGA make some very valid points that most of us would accept as simply common sense. However much of the rural police force is made up of urban police officers who, though implementing the law to the best of their ability, have little if any experience of the countryside. It goes without saying that other organisations with an anti-shooting agenda will do their very best to influence those in authority and make waves against us. Better to err on the side of caution than push a possibly compromising position that could risk losing a valuable tool for the keeper and damage the profession.

Unfortunately, cage traps themselves have also been brought to the public’s attention lately through their blatant misuse. A Derbyshire keeper working in the Derwent Valley of the Peak District has just been convicted of seven offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Animal Welfare Act 2010, relating to the unlawful use of a cage trap. They include intentionally trapping a sparrowhawk, keeping pigeons to use as live bait and causing unnecessary suffering to captive birds. He was sentenced to 100 hours community service and ordered to pay £10,000 costs.

Caught on film taken covertly by a remote battery-operated video camera placed by the RSPB, the keeper was seen carefully inspecting the trap. After clearly seeing a white pigeon inside, it was his responsibility to remove the bird immediately but he does not, and is shown leaving the site. Further footage shows him releasing the bird and after his arrest a pigeon coop is shown at his home, where the secretly marked bird was later recovered.

Of course the successful prosecution of the keeper was milked for all it was worth, exaggerated by the RSPB and the gullible. Even the CPS prosecutor said, on camera, that the convicted keeper had “persecuted raptors over a number of years” and attention was brought to the keeper “by the decline in Goshawks.” It’s all very alarmist.

Nevertheless in this instance the keeper was caught bang to rights. He and his employers have suffered the consequences, as the actual shooting lease is to be reviewed by the National Trust landowners in light of the case.

Our industry cannot stand destruction from within. Gamekeepers are the custodians of the countryside, and any abuse of the law will undo the good work that, in the course of game preservation, benefits all wildlife. Most of this good work is overlooked but breaking the law is always raw meat to the mainstream media.

Privacy is a thing of the past: wildlife crime officers now have ready access to equipment that would give James Bond and Q a collective breakdown, and the RSPB’s investigators are relentless. Many of these people would like nothing more than to put an end to the game shooting industry altogether. Let’s not give them the satisfaction.

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