TRAPS AND SNARES – Legal or Illegal?

Those who regularly take access to the countryside, for whatever reason, occasionally encounter a situation that they might just think constitutes a wildlife crime. Gamekeepers, farmers and others are entitled to control pest species and this is the side of wildlife management that can most often result in confusion or even confrontation. It is important that breaches of wildlife law are reported to the police, but equally important that there is no interference with legitimate pest control, especially if that interference amounts to an offence in itself. The following is a very brief guide.

At the time of publication (January 2008) snares may be set for foxes, and ground game such as rabbits and hares by a person who is the landowner or who has the landowner’s authority. The snares must not be of the variety that are self-locking, in other words they must relax slightly round the animal’s neck when it stops pulling against it, and must be checked at least once every 24 hours, at which time anything caught has to be removed. Though it has not been tested in court, there was a change in the law in early 2007 which appears to make it an offence to use snares against mountain hares.

The responses to a public consultation on snaring are currently being studied by the Scottish Government and results are likely to be announced early in 2008. The outcome may be to ban snares, modify their use, or leave the law on snaring unchanged.

Larsen Trap - door left open when not in use
Bird traps

Crow species can be legally caught in Larsen traps, which are cube-shaped traps made of wood and wire netting, or completely of wire. There are normally three compartments, one of which is likely to hold a decoy bird, most likely to be a carrion crow or a magpie, with the other two compartments used to catch other crow species attracted inside. To be legal, the decoy bird must have food, water, shelter and a perch, and the trap must be checked at least once every 24 hours. There should never be an occasion when a pigeon is used as a decoy, since this is likely to result in a bird of prey being caught.

Large multi-catch traps are more commonly seen, with the main principle being that they should be checked every 24 hours. There are occasions when birds of prey, especially buzzards and kestrels will enter these. This is not an offence provided the birds are released when the trap is checked. If birds of prey are seen in the trap, it is a good idea to make the police aware and if possible they will ensure that the trap operator attends immediately to release them. Multi-catch traps are sometimes legally used to catch rooks and jackdaws.

At any time when the trap is not being used, it must be made unable to catch or to hold birds. Normally this is by padlocking the door open, or removing the door or a wire panel completely. Failing to do this is an offence.

Poisoned bait laid out illegally for birds of prey, etc.
Mammal traps

These are of two designs. Those that kill the target species are set in tunnels with a narrow entrance that should limit entry only to animals no larger than a grey squirrel (though a slightly larger trap may legitimately be used to catch rabbits and mink.) There is no need in law for a daily check of these traps, though best practice dictates that this usually happens. They may also be set, still within a tunnel, on a plank of wood over a burn but the test of legality is always the measure taken to deny access to non-target animals such as hedgehog and other larger protected species. Live-catch traps are usually rectangular-shaped wire cages, open at one end and with bait at the other. These traps must be checked on a 24-hour basis.

Lastly, if you think you have found a poisoned bait (often a rabbit, pheasant or egg) or the victim of such, do not touch it and make contact with the police immediately, if possible by mobile phone while there, and ask to speak to a wildlife crime officer. They would also be grateful if an image is able to be emailed, even if you have had to come home by this time, and should be able to interpret the images.

As a break from the norm we are grateful for this contribution from one of this season’s speakers: Alan Stewart, wildlife and environment officer, Tayside Police. For further information see the Wildlife Crime Page of the Tayside Police website at or read Wildlife Detective by Alan Stewart, (Argyll Publishing, RRP £14.99, ISBN 978 1 906134 04 4)

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