Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is reviewing the General Licences that allow for the taking and killing of wild birds in Scotland. Similar schemes operate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The General Licences allow any authorised person – usually the landowner, someone acting on his behalf, or a “pest controller” – to undertake normally proscribed activities, such as killing wild birds or interfering with their nests or eggs. There is no approval process – a Licence can simply be downloaded from the SNH website and relied on, as long as the user can say he has read and understood it.
Conditions on the Licences restrict the species that can be killed and the purposes for killing. Nonetheless the scheme has long been criticised for allowing the persecution of certain species, especially corvids (crows, rooks, magpies and jays) and columbids (pigeons and doves). As the RSPB has pointed out in the past, the mere presence of these birds doesn’t necessarily mean they are causing a problem, but some land managers control them as a matter of routine.
For OneKind of course the main issue is animal welfare. We don’t support the killing of animals or birds but, if control is thought to be unavoidable, it must be humane.
The Licences already allow the use of Larsen traps, baited with decoy birds, often seen fluttering desperately, confined close to the ground and in full view of predators. Now, according to the consultation, SNH proposes to allow a new and more dangerous trap.
The so-called Larsen mate (or clam or snapper trap) is baited with a dead rabbit or hare and left open with a false perch in two pieces above the bait. When weight is put on the perch it collapses, slamming the open upper parts of the cage together. The trap is intended for corvids but inevitably, non-target species such as raptors and ravens are also drawn to the bait - the OneKind field research officer has found buried raptor carcasses very close to Larsen mate traps.
When the cage snaps shut, the bird could be trapped across the body or wings. Even a cleanly-caught bird may have to endure up to 24 hours inside the cage before it is checked by the operator. In that time there may be no water or shelter, no space to move around, to perch or to open its wings. OneKind has submitted a response to the consultation (PDF), asking SNH not to license Larsen mate traps.
We have also asked for a review of a recently added condition that allows someone convicted under conservation and welfare laws to continue using the licence as long as he has “only” been admonished by the court. And, following our exposé of crow killing methods on a Scottish estate last year, we have asked for better guidance on humane killing.
And there’s more ... you can read the OneKind submission here. The consultation has now closed but we’d still like to know what you think – do the General Licences provide a measured approach to wildlife management? Or are they far too permissive? Please add a comment below or visit our OneKind Communities website and join the discussion there.