Despite their cruelty, snares are still used to trap and maim animals on 'sporting' estates - but you can help consign them to history, writes Bob Elliot
It is a simple, deadly trap - a loop of wire secured to an anchor placed on the ground in an area where a person wishes to catch foxes and other animals.
Snares are appallingly cruel and indiscriminate. It is one of those devices that people cannot quite believe has not already been banned in Scotland and consigned to the history books, along with other Victorian methods that were used to kill our wild animals in times past.
I remember the first time I came across a snare in Scotland. Walking with a friend through a pheasant and grouse shooting estate he inadvertently walked into a snare and was trapped round his ankle. It was quite unsettling; and it was a surprisingly challenging operation to remove the loop of wire from his leg.
Fast forward few years. I was again walking with a colleague in some woodland close to a grouse moor when we noticed the place was riddled with wire snares. Vegetation from fallen branches had been moved to funnel foxes towards a stink pit, sometimes known as a gamekeeper’s midden. Numerous dead foxes, deer and rabbits had been piled up to rot. The strong smell designed to attract scavenging predators; these animals would then become victims of the snares themselves.
In the quiet of that dark forest, we heard a choking sound. A young fox cub was caught by the neck. Fearing for the immediate welfare of the animal, we released the fox from the snare, undoubtably to an uncertain fate. The photo we took that day is still widely used in the media to illustrate the issue of snares. Each time I see that picture - the eyes of that terrified cub staring back - I am acutely reminded of the inherent cruelty of snares and other traps hidden away in our forests, fields, and grouse moors.
There have been many, many, incidents, and graphic pictures like that since. Cats, dogs, and other animals photographed as victims and recorded via our Snarewatch site at https://www.snarewatch.org.
In 2017, Scottish Natural Heritage announced it would no longer be issuing licenses for snaring mountain hares due to ‘unnecessary suffering’. Whilst this was a very welcome move and was particularly good for mountain hare welfare, I really cannot see the difference between a mountain hare suffering in a snare, and any other animal suffering in a snare. The snaring legislation in Scotland offers animals extraordinarily little in the way of protection. Snares cannot be used in a way that does not cause suffering, no matter how regulated they may be.
Key government bodies like NatureScot, as well as conservation charities like the Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland, and the National Trust for Scotland, do not use snares. The consensus among veterinarians is that snares do indeed cause widespread suffering and should be banned.
Perhaps there might be some light at the end of this dark snaring tunnel. The Scottish Government is currently reviewing snaring which means that a ban on snares in Scotland is finally a real possibility. We know that most people in Scotland want the Scottish Government to do the right thing - consign snares to the history books and ban them.
At the time of writing, in just 24 hours more than 1,000 letters have been sent to the minister for environment and land reform, Màiri McAllan, thanking her for undertaking a review of snaring, and urging a full ban on the manufacture, sale, possession and use of snares in Scotland. We would ask the Scottish public to add their voice to this incredibly important cause and utilise our customisable letter action.
For now, though, I am reminded of that picture of the poor fox cub I found trapped in that forest in Scotland. We cannot keep on condoning cruelty such as this.
Bob Elliot is director of OneKind.