Environment Minister Michael Russell
Statement on Snaring
February 20, 2008
As members will no doubt be aware, during the passage of the Nature Conservation Act 2004 the Environment and Rural Development Committee carried out a careful examination of snaring. The Committee concluded that whilst there was room for improvement there remained a need for predator control in the countryside and that the other options available to land managers were not necessarily any better in terms of animal welfare.
None the less, at Stage 3 of the Bill, the then Minister, Allan Wilson, announced a full public consultation on snaring. Within the 243 responses received by February 2007 there was a clear majority in favour of a complete ban although a breakdown of views indicates that it was individuals who were mostly in favour of a ban whereas organisations - and particularly countryside organisations - remained supportive of snaring in some form
Since then there have been a number of campaigns run by both sides of the argument. No doubt it is an extreme case, but in the last few weeks my own office has received more than 4,850 emails and cards seeking a ban. A very much smaller number of messages have supported the continuation of snaring.
In recent months, I have been heavily engaged with this subject. I have discussed snaring with representatives of many organisations, and have been on a number of fact-finding visits.
Presiding Officer, I greatly respect those who campaign for a complete ban on snaring and I empathise with them. We should be justly proud that Scotland has some of the strongest wildlife protection legislation in the world.
It is important that we continue to maintain the highest standards and that everything done in the countryside - including everything done to control pests and predators - is consistent with those high standards.
Yet no responsible politician can ignore the fact that there are those argue equally passionately that snaring is a regrettable but essential tool for high quality land management in Scotland. Such people also have a keen interest in and concern for wildlife and their view - that snaring plays a key role in maintaining the iconic Scottish landscape of heather clad hillsides, alive with a rich diversity of species - cannot be lightly set aside.
They base their argument on three pillars - those of shooting, biodiversity and agricultural imperatives.
They contend firstly that effective predator control is essential for the maintenance of the sort of shooting for which Scotland is world-famous, whether upland grouse moors or lowland pheasant shoots. Such shooting also provides considerable economic benefit to rural areas where jobs and income can be scarce - for example a 2006 study calculated that shooting is worth £240 million each year to the Scottish economy. It generates approximately 1.75 million visitor nights, most of which take place during the autumn and winter months when other visitors are thin on the ground. There are 58,000 workers paid by the shooting sector and this amounts to the equivalent of 11,000 full-time jobs. The sport also provides the equivalent of 2,000 full-time conservation jobs and spends £43 million a year on improving habitat and wildlife management.
Secondly, those in favour say that control of predators and foxes in particular is a key factor in maintaining and enhancing biodiversity.
A Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust field experiment showed that predator control increased the breeding stock of the wild gray partridge by 42 per cent. Without such control, stocks declined in most years. The National Parks staff at Loch Lomond and the Cairngorms have, amongst others, made it clear that without snaring being available to them as a means of predator control they fear they would be unable to meet their statutory objectives in maintaining biodiversity.
The two issues - of shooting and biodiversity - are also linked. It is no accident that managed moorland contains many more species of ground nesting birds such lapwing, golden plover and curlew than unmanaged land. The key factor here is that predators such as foxes are controlled - essential for innovations such as the new Langholm Moor Project, amongst whose partners are SNH, RSPB and the Buccleuch Estates.
And of course we have to accept that farmers throughout Scotland depend heavily on efficient predator control for protection of their animals. Lambs are the best known target but other free-range stock such as poultry and pigs are also at risk. Many farmers and crofters will also on occasion need to protect crops from the extensive damage that can be done by rabbits and snaring is a tool in that matter as well.
Of course there are alternatives to snaring. Shooting disposes of more than 70 per cent of foxes which are killed each year but clean, efficient shooting that does not leave wounded animals is very dependent on the skill of the shooter and the lie of the land. It is not suitable in every area or case. Other methods of predator control such as trapping in cages, hunting with hounds, poisoning or gassing are either illegal, or ineffective or are dangerous to the operator and often also to a wider range of wildlife.
The welfare implications of snaring itself are also the matter of some debate. It is to be regretted that there has never been any scientific study on the welfare issues associated with snaring though it is clear that snares that are set badly or snares that are set close to urban environments or are not regularly checked all have the potential to injure wildlife and domestic animals and sometimes do just that. I have no doubt that it is these sort of snares which are regularly brought to the attention of bodies like the SSPCA and rightly so. Those who set them are wildlife criminals.
Yet scientists who wish to catch animals for radio-tagging experiments use snares without any apparent harm and members will wish to note that the British Veterinary Association Ethics and Welfare Group recently commented that "in some circumstances snaring might be the least inhumane method where control is necessary". That conclusion was also reached by the 2005 Independent Working Group on Snares.
In weighing all this evidence the key issue I have had to consider is whether the protection of our unique biodiversity, the management of our successful shooting industries and the safeguarding of our key agricultural production could be undertaken without the option of using snaring - that is could it be done in any more humane and more appropriate way both in terms of cost effectiveness and in terms of actual results on the ground. If it could then snaring might well be able to be dispensed with. If not, then snaring, regrettably, would have to remain within the range of tools necessary for good land management in Scotland.
Presiding Officer, at the end of a very lengthy process of discussion and reflection I have come to the conclusion that snaring is still necessary in some circumstances. However it is also clear to me that we can and must do better in terms of eliminating bad practice for I believe it is bad practice - and sometimes criminally bad practice - which is responsible for some of the dreadful cases brought forward by animal rights organisations.
The public are rightly concerned about what happens to the wildlife that is part of all our heritage. They need to be absolutely confident that where snaring is necessary, there is no room for any doubt about what is allowed , that the practice is undertaken by competent and responsible individuals ,that we have outlawed any practices which do not match up to welfare standards - and that we are vigorously enforcing that law.
Accordingly I intend to bring forward a package of regulations and - where necessary - primary legislation which will aim to make fundamental changes to the practice of snaring in Scotland. I, and my officials, have discussed these changes with industry representatives - landowners and managers, gamekeepers and sporting interests - and I hope that they will command widespread support. I would also like to have the co-operation of welfare and other organisations such as Advocates for Animals and the League against Cruel Sports but unfortunately they indicated to me as recently as last Friday that they are not prepared to countenance any alternative to a total ban. I regret that and I want to assure them today that the door remains open to them, if they are willing to work with this Government to introduce the best possible practice in this matter.
The package that we intend to bring forward will I believe make a significant difference in terms of animal welfare.
- We will require the compulsory fitting of crimped safety stops to prevent the noose closing too far and inflicting damage. This is arguably something which should have been done long ago and on its own it has the potential to bring about a huge improvement in the welfare of animals restrained by snares.
- We will require the compulsory fitting of ID tags on snares which will allow identification of their owner by the authorities, but will not allow identification by casual passers-by.
- We will specify that the action of a snare must be checked before it is set
- We will make clear that any snare which is not staked in place must be fixed with an anchor that cannot be dragged away
- We will prohibit the setting of snares on posts, over water courses, on planks or fences as this can cause unnecessary suffering
- We will specify that areas where snaring is taking place are clearly marked with signs.
The measures I have mentioned so far can, I believe be brought forward by means of regulations under s11 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. When the opportunity arises to bring forward primary legislation we will also
Consider, the way in which we could create a new offence of tampering with a lawfully set snare. This is required both in terms of good governance and because tampering with snares, even for the best of reasons, can sometimes (even unwittingly) make their effects more deadly and cruel.
Give legal status to a new land management industry accreditation scheme. The aim will be that within a fixed period everyone who sets a snare will require have received training in best practice and the law. Eventually no one without such training will be allowed to set a snare.
We will also put in place arrangements to assist with technical developments in the use of snares, and for those developments to be reported back to Ministers with the aim of incorporating them into best practice.
By implementing this package Scotland will have established the best possible practice in terms of animal welfare whilst allowing effective land management to continue with all the economic and conservation benefits that accrue.
We will also be sending a clear signal to those wildlife cowboys and criminals who use snares illegally and indiscriminately that their methods will vigorously pursued and punished.
Presiding Officer this statement charts a new way forward, I hope it will command the support of the whole chamber.