Thursday, 29 June 2017

Senedd sceptical about snare use (but stop short of a ban)

The Environment Committee  stopped short of calling for an immediate ban on the use of snares (to trap pests) in their latest inquiry report (pdf) but have displayed a certain level of scepticism.

Responding to the inquiry findings, recently-appointed Committee chair, Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) said:

"Given the risk to animal welfare, we believe it's essential that every effort is made to ensure that Welsh Government policy in this area is supported by robust evidence.

This inquiry has shown us there are considerable gaps in the data available to understand the scale, efficacy, and humaneness of snare-use in Wales."

Key Recommendations:

  • The Welsh Government should undertake an annual review of the Code (of best practice) and if it's found not to be working, the law should be tightened on snare use.
  • If legislation is drafted it should include requirements such as training, licensing and holding landowners liable to prosecution for snare misuse. If this doesn't work, then consideration should be given to a ban on snares.
  • The use of snares that are already non-compliant with the Code should be banned on Welsh Government-owned land.

Snares are currently used by farmers to control foxes and rabbits "as a last resort", usually by trapping the animal in a wire before being killed. Sometimes they're used for hunting or research. Their use has been criticised by animal welfare organisations and a petition calling for an outright ban – which gathered more than 1,400 signatures – was submitted to the Senedd in September 2016.

There's currently a legally-binding Code of Best Practice for snare use, with any animals caught in snares needing to be protected from pain and suffering. However, the RSPCA and others argued that the Code was effectively voluntary as, while having a Code is mandatory, following it isn't compulsory and many snares are located on private land with landowners' permission, making prosecutions unlikely.

To counter that argument, the Countryside Alliance expected people to use Code-compliant snares for the right reasons or expect a snare ban – a ban which the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) argued would be easier to enforce.

Free-running snares (which relax when a fox or other animal stops pulling) are allowed, self-locking snares are illegal. Anti-snaring campaigners described free-running snares as "a bit of a joke" and inhumane, preferring a total ban on their use. There was no agreement amongst witnesses on what might replace it – shooting was said to be impractical at certain times of the year, while trapping was too cumbersome and may cause more injuries to wild animals as they try to escape.

Around 2,000 gamekeepers have been trained via on-demand courses on how to use snares as stipulated in the Code, but training isn't a formal/legal requirement, just a recommendation.

In addition, there's little to no data collection on snare use in Wales and while Natural Resources Wales doesn't use snares on their land, they don't explicitly ban their use either.

This muddled picture was reflected in existing animal welfare laws, which the Law Commission of EnglandandWales describes as "overly-complicated and sometimes contradictory". They recommended a new Bill be introduced at Westminister on the subject with permission sought from the Senedd.

The Welsh Government reject the idea, and while they're not considering introducing a new law on snares, they're "actively reviewing (their) position" – a sentiment the Committee shared.

Why should this matter to you?

If it wasn't for the public petition on the issue, it's unlikely this topic would've even been the subject of an inquiry.

Clearly, there's concern about snares and their impact on wildlife, but any talk of a ban will likely be resisted by livestock farmers, as snaring is one of the few practical, legal means left for them to control foxes.

Tighter controls on snare use – as in Scotland – may be a more likely direction of travel, but I doubt it would satisfy everyone; it's not the ban animal welfare campaigners want, while it would inevitably involve more bureaucracy for farmers and gamekeepers.


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