Blog written by Claire Hamlett, a freelance journalist and contributor
Wales has banned the use of free-running snares and glue traps from October 17 this year. It is the first country in the UK to take this step to protect animals from these torture devices. The new law is enshrined in the Agriculture (Wales) Act, which the Senedd (Welsh parliament) passed in June.
The English parliament debated the use of snares in January 2023 but did not ban them. Campaigners believe a ban is likely in Scotland in the near future. New legislation restricting the use of glue traps passed in England in 2022 but it still allows their use under license.
A free-running snare is a wire noose that tightens around a captured animal when they struggle. The noose relaxes when they stop moving, the idea being that they are only supposed to restrain the animal rather than kill them. But most animals, once caught, will keep struggling to free themselves, sustaining horrific injuries in the process.
The animals that can legally be caught by snares as ‘target’ animals are foxes, rabbits, and brown hares. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is illegal to position any trap or snare in order to harm or kill ‘non-target’ protected species including badgers, otters, red squirrels, pine martens, hedgehogs, and polecat. But licenses can be obtained to catch one of these protected species.
In reality, snares are indiscriminate, catching many kinds of species, both free-living and companion such as dogs and cats. A 2022 review of the use of snares in the UK by Oxford biology professor Stephen Harris states that around 70 percent of animals caught by snares are non-target species. But overall, the review found that there is very little information on how widely snares are used in the UK, how many snares are littering the countryside, and how many animals in total are caught each year.
A glue trap is a flat piece of cardboard, plastic, or wood coated with non-drying glue or a shallow tray of glue. The glue is often scented to attract animals, who then become stuck to it and are unable to escape. They are supposed to catch small animals such as rodents, lizards, insects, and spiders. Like snares, they are indiscriminate, catching many other types of animals besides the ‘target’ ones including birds and cats.
Animals get caught by their feet, but more parts of their bodies get stuck as they try to escape. This can result in fur or feathers being ripped out, broken bones, and animals even chewing their own limbs to get free. The RSPCA received 243 reports of animals caught on glue traps between 2015 and 2019, with less than 27 percent of the animals involved being ‘target’ animals. The Glue Trap (Offences) Act 2022 makes it illegal to use glue traps in England except under license.
Farmers and gamekeepers on shooting estates (where birds such as grouse and pheasants are shot) use snares to catch so-called ‘pest’ animals such as foxes and rabbits. The Harris review notes that while these animals are “widely portrayed as agricultural ‘pests’” a study funded by Defra showed in England and Wales snares are more likely to be used on shooting estates, and many more snares are set by gamekeepers than farmers.
Gamekeepers claim that they need to kill ‘pest’ animals to protect the birds they release onto their estates from predation. The shooting industry talking points on this topic are often parrotted by MPs. For example, DUP MP Jim Shannon referred to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) at a parliamentary debate on snares in January, saying “BASC has also highlighted … that snares are a vital predator management tool that enables land managers to protect livestock, game birds and ground-nesting birds from predation by foxes where other methods of control are not viable.”
But according to the Harris review, “While the shooting industry claims that it is essential to snare foxes to protect ground-nesting birds, there is no evidence that this is necessary or successful.”
Glue traps are used by ‘pest’ controllers. But they aren’t effective at keeping unwanted animals out of an area. Animals instead should be humanely removed to a different location with measures put in place to prevent them returning.
There are other ways that free-living animals can be killed in England to ‘protect’ property or financial interests. Here are a few examples. Foxes can be caught in snares or traps and then “humanely” killed (the government does not specify what this means, only the methods which are not allowed). Free foxes can also be shot.
Moles can be gassed or caught in spring traps. Mink can be trapped and killed “humanely” or shot while free. A number of bird species can be shot under a general license in different UK nations, such as carrion crows, who can be killed across the UK, and Canada geese, who can be shot everywhere except Northern Ireland. For some species, specific licenses are required.
Gamekeepers have also been found to use illegal methods of killing free-living animals. They poison and shoot protected birds of prey such as hen harriers and peregrine falcons to stop them predating on grouse.
For the animals.