I love it when readers send me information about causes they are passionate about. Not all of it makes enjoyable reading, though. A recent letter highlighted the grisly issue of snaring in our countryside.
Snaring is the practice of using wire nooses to trap animals, such as badgers, foxes, deer and rabbits. Now forgive me for being naive, but I’d assumed snaring was illegal. It’s one of those old country skills that I thought had gone the way of basket weaving and falconry.
In fact, the UK is one of only five European members that still allow the use of animal snares. Foxes or rabbits are often the intended victim, although other animals can be caught (including domestic cats). However, the Badger Trust reported last year that the badger cull policy was leading to an increase in the snaring of badgers, even though it is illegal to kill badgers this way.
The legislation around snaring is complex. Several best practice guides exist, such as one published by DEFRA, but these are not legally binding (although they would be referred to in court in cases of suspected malpractice).
Snaring or trapping within sight or earshot of public rights of way, including footpaths and highways is generally considered to be bad practice. Catching the wrong species, for example badgers, wild cats, dormice and otters does constitute an offence – but you have to ask how on earth this is monitored, especially given that ‘good practice’ necessitates traps are out of sight and hearing of anyone. It would take a very honest person to shop themselves for a wildlife crime when they could quietly release or destroy an injured animal that they hadn’t intended to catch.
Let’s be clear: Controlling predators such as foxes is a common part of country life, carried out by landowners around the UK. It doesn’t just happen on shooting estates either; it is part of management practices on nature reserves too. For many people, this is intolerable in itself, but whatever your view on culls, the death in most cases is by gun; it is swift and professional.
By contrast, death by snare can be lengthy, indiscriminate and painful. In short, it is an inhumane and barbaric way to kill. Even proponents of fox hunting, which is of course now illegal, could cite the economic and community benefits associated with hunting with hounds – there are no such advantages with snaring.
Fox hunting, however, was very visible and there was a clear target for protesters. Meanwhile, snaring operates in secrecy, under cover of darkness and with no publicly available timetable. This has allowed it to persist in a time when an animal welfare concern is normally enough to generate headlines.
Snaring is undeniably out-dated and ‘good practice’ is incredibly hard to police. It’s time we left the medieval age behind us and updated the law.
First published in the EDP and EADT
Image from www.antisnaring.org.uk