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What is a snare?

A snare is a primitive means of ''pest'' control consisting of a thin wire noose used to trap wild animals. The snare is positioned in such a way that one end is attached to the ground or a heavy object while the other end forms a loop, which traps the animal and tightens as the animal struggles.

Free-running snares are supposed to work in such a way that if the animal stops struggling the wire will slacken off. However this is not always the case.


What are snares used for?

Snares are used to trap animals such as foxes, rabbits and hares that are perceived by some to be pests. Snares are used by some farmers to try to catch rabbits, and by gamekeepers on sporting estates to try to catch foxes and hares in an attempt to protect game birds reared for shooting. The purpose of a snare is to immobilise its target but they can cause serious injury and often death.


Are snares cruel?

Yes, snares are cruel. They have the potential to inflict extreme injuries on animals and can often be responsible for painful and lingering deaths. Not only this, once an animal is trapped in a snare it can suffer from dehydration, starvation and distress as well as being at a higher risk from other predators.

A recent independent study by leading academics at the Centre for Animal Welfare and Anthrozoology at Cambridge University, The Impact of Snares on Animal Welfare, found that:

  • Snares do not operate humanely, either as restraining or as killing traps.
  • The mortality and morbidity of animals caught in snares is higher than with most other restraining traps, such as box traps.
  • The free-running mechanism of a snare is easily disrupted and likely to fail, resulting in injury, pain, suffering, and death in trapped animals.

It concluded: "However, some pest control methods have such extreme effects on an animal's welfare that, regrdless of the potemntial benefits, their use is never justified. Snaring is such a method."

Professor Ranald Munro, BVMS, MSc, DVM, Dip Forensic Medicine, MRCVS is the former Head of Pathology at the Veterinary Laboratory Agency and a former President of the World Society for the Protection of Animals. He is currently Visiting Professor of Forensic Veterinary Pathology at the Royal Veterinary College. Professor Munro has carried out numerous post mortem examinations of snared animals including rabbits, hares, foxes, badgers and deer.  He has provided OneKind with the following statement about the injuries caused by snares.

“From the veterinary perspective, snares are primitive indiscriminate traps that are recognised as causing widespread suffering to a range of animals.  At their least injurious, snares around the neck can result in abrasion and splitting of the skin.  However, being caught in a snare is extremely distressing for any creature and vigorous attempts to escape are natural.  These efforts cause the snare wire to kink, thereby changing a free-running snare to a self-locking one.  Strangulation and choking follow.

“It is commonplace for snares to lodge around the chest, abdomen or legs rather than the neck.  In such instances the stop restraint is ineffective and the wire cuts through skin and muscle and, eventually, bone.  Badgers may be eviscerated when the abdominal wall is cut through.  Amputation of the lower limb and foot by a snare is well-documented in deer. These unfortunate animals suffer immensely.”

An Independent Working Group on Snares, reporting to the UK Government in 2005, identified a long list of harm caused to animals caught in snares. Adverse impacts included:

  • the stress of restraint, which could include frustration, anxiety and rage
  • fear of predation or capture whilst held by the snare
  • friction, penetration and self-inflicted skin injuries whilst struggling against or fighting the tether
  • pain, thirst, hunger and exposure when restrained for long periods
  • pain, injury and reduced ability to survive that could persist following escape
  • stress of capture and handling before despatch by the snare operator
  • pain and injury associated with killing by the snare operator if unconsciousness is not immediate.

In December 2007, the Scottish SPCA released a report on snaring compiled from the evidence of Scottish SPCA inspectors, wildlife crime police officers and vets. The Report revealed that, although snares are meant to be restraining devices, more than half the animals reported were either found dead in the snare or had to be put down.


What animals are caught in snares?

Snares are indiscriminate. They may be set to trap foxes, rabbits or hares but in reality any animal is at risk as it is impossible to set a snare that will only catch the intended species. Protected species such as otters, badgers and wildcats as well as livestock, deer and even domestic cats and dogs are just some of the animals which can be caught in snares.

The recent report by academics at Cambridge University, The Impact of Snares on Animal Welfare, found that 'Snares are inherently indiscriminate and commonly catch non-target, including protected, species.'

The proportion of non-target species caught and held in snares set for foxes has been calculated as ranging from 21-69%: the report of the UK government's Independent Working Group on Snaring estimated that it might be difficult, in some environments, to reduce the overall proportion of non-target animals caught in fox snares to below about 40%.

In December 2007, the Scottish SPCA released a report on snaring compiled from the evidence of Scottish SPCA inspectors, wildlife crime police officers and vets.It showed that of the animals caught in snares - ranging from badgers and deer to pet cats and dogs - only 23 per cent of the animals reported were the intended foxes or rabbits. Therefore a massive 77% of animals caught were of other non-target species.


What is the current law on snaring in Scotland?

The use of free-running snares is legal in Scotland and the rest of the UK, although self-locking snares are banned.  Snares must be inspected every day and any animals caught must be removed, whether alive or dead.  The Scottish Parliament has the power to ban snaring in Scotland.

Over two years after the Scottish Government controversially decided not to ban snares in Scotland, new regulations on snaring in Scotland were introduced in March 2010. The Snares (Scotland) Order 2010 requires operators to check daily that their snares remain free-running. All snares have to be fitted with stops to prevent the loop tightening beyond a certain point, and anchored so that they cannot be dragged away.  A snare must not be set where the animal is likely to become fully or partially suspended, or drown.  A proposed requirement to mark the areas where snares are set was dropped and a provision for the compulsory fitting of identification tags on snares was postponed for inclusion in the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill (see below). These long-awaited regulations offer some progress towards reducing the animal suffering caused by snares – but they will not prevent thousands of animals suffering in these cruel and indiscriminate traps.

In March 2011, MSPs supported a review of the legislation every five years, as well as further amendments on record-keeping, and on the circumstances in which the setting of snares is an appropriate method of predator control.

Are snares banned in the rest of the UK and Europe?

Snares are not banned anywhere in the UK. In Europe, OneKind enquiries have established that:

  • Neck snares are generally permitted in five Member States (Belgium, France, Ireland, Latvia and UK). 
  • Neck snares are either banned outright or not used in ten Member States (Austria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Malta).  Switzerland (not in the EU) also has a complete ban on the use of snares.
  • The use of neck snares is strictly regulated and limited in six Member States (Finland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden). 
  • The position in the remaining six Member States (Bulgaria, Germany, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) is not yet confirmed, although we believe that snares are banned in at least two of these states.


How can snaring be banned in Scotland?

The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill would be debated by the Scottish Parliament. Section 13 of this Bill repeals the provisions of the Snares (Scotland) Order 2010 and adds a requirement for identification and for operator training.  OneKind wants to see the Bill amended to ban snares outright.  All members of the Scottish Parliament will have the opportunity to vote whether or not to ban snares.

A recent OneKind poll found that the vast majority (77%) of people in Scotland are opposed to snaring.


How can snaring be banned in the rest of the UK?

OneKind believes that a ban on snares in Scotland will lead the way for a ban on snares in the rest of the UK.