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Mountain hare snare licences to be reviewed

Libby Anderson's avatar
Libby Anderson
28 February 2013 in Campaigns

Scottish Government confirms that the UK must report protected animals captured in snares. 

Responses to parliamentary questions put by Christine Grahame MSP (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (Scottish National Party), published this week, confirm that returns must be made regularly to the European Commission about the number of protected animals – such as mountain hares – captured in non-selective traps – such as snares.

Ms Grahame lodged the questions following the trial of a gamekeeper on the Lochindorb estate in Inverness-shire.  In his verdict, the Sheriff said that he had not heard evidence that the conditions of use in the particular circumstances, time and location of the alleged offence had led to the capture of non-target species.  Prior to this the Sheriff had found that snares were traps (the defence had attempted to argue that they were not), and then heard evidence about whether they were indiscriminate or non-selective.   Obviously, any court requires evidence beyond reasonable doubt before it can convict, and OneKind accepts that this particular verdict was based on a lack of evidence about the circumstances of the case.  It was not shown that non-target animals had been captured due to the way that the snares were used, the circumstances and the location.  On a large estate where 200 snares had been set, it defies belief that no other species, including protected species, were put at risk by this large number of traps – but there has to be evidence to that effect.  

In our view, however, ‘non-selective’ is about more than non-target species.  Snares also fail to discriminate between the individuals within the target population.  A snare set for a mountain hare may well catch a mountain hare but there is no way of ensuring it is not a pregnant or lactating female, or a juvenile.  The adverse effects on populations, and on animal welfare, are uncontrolled.  Regrettably that aspect was not raised during the trial.

The Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP has now stated that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) will review the longstanding licensing regime limiting the use of snares to capture mountain hares, in the wake of the Lochindorb case.  Given the UK obligation to protect mountain hares and report on the use of non-selective traps, we cannot see how the regime can be changed – and we hope the review will clarify this.

It has also been confirmed that some users accept the need for licences to snare mountain hares – five applications have been received since 2006 by the Scottish Government and SNH, which took over the licensing function in July 2011.  Three of these were granted and two refused.

Despite the claims by the defence agent that Lochindorb was “a test case”, we believe it would be a misrepresentation of the verdict if anyone assumes that the licensing requirement no longer applies and that snares can now be set for protected species.   The Minister’s reply on reporting tends to support that view. Read the Minister’s responses to Christine Grahame’s questions (S4W-12780 – S4W-12782).  

And as a reminder of the inherent cruelty of snaring, and why it should simply be banned, see the latest report of animal suffering on www.snarewatch.org 

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