Fair game?

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10 May 2011
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Earlier this year I went for a walk with the BBC to help them with a documentary about Scottish country shooting estates.

Hand holding GPS system

During my walks on the 18,000 acre Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire, I have uncovered three live snared badgers, dead buzzards, dead snared foxes and dead deer. At the end of last year, I showed naturalist Bill Oddie some of these scenes, and his reaction was filmed to support the OneKind campaign against snaring.

On another occasion, I even stood and watched a gamekeeper from the estate stake a dead rabbit, baited with the highly toxic poison carbofuran, to the ground on top of a hill.  Across the UK, dozens of birds such as golden eagles, hen harriers, buzzards and sea eagles are found dead from ingesting this same poison. Any animal eating carbofuran will die an agonising death and for humans, just touching it can cause serious illness or even death.

This observation led eventually to the gamekeeper's conviction for an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

After walking for a while on the hills with the BBC crew, we came across a stink pit. This is an area where dead animals - usually hares, foxes and sometimes even sheep and deer - are placed and left to rot. Branches are cut down from the surrounding trees and constructed on the ground to make a wall around the rotting animals.

Gaps are left within this wall and snares are placed within these. Although stink pits are legal, they are also indiscriminate as they can attract many different species apart from the targeted fox. Any predator may be attracted including the protected badger, pine marten or even pet cats and dogs.

Later, by a dry stone wall, we found a spring cage trap of a type which is not recognised under Scottish regulations. This cage is split into two and held open by a piece of wood that has been cut in two. Bait such as a dead hare is placed at the bottom of the cage and when a bird lands on the wooden perch it collapses and the cage closes in on itself, capturing the bird.

The cage is indiscriminate as any predatory or carrion eating bird can be attracted by the bait including protected birds of prey. As the cage snaps shut, a bit like a Venus fly trap, the bird may get its wings caught and injure itself. Mammals such as badgers, foxes and pine marten can also be the victims of this trap if they were to put their heads into it in an attempt to retrieve the bait. I have found these traps being used on other estates where there was a population of raptors in the area.

After recording this find, I took the film crew into the woodland just by where we had found the cage spring trap. It didn't take long to discover three dead birds of prey. All these birds had been buried in shallow graves within the woodland. Looking at the condition of the earth that covered them as well as the decomposition of the three protected birds I guessed that they had been dead for approximately six months. Due to their condition I couldn't say how they had died, but it was clear that somebody didn't want them found.

The day ended at another active stink pit surrounded by snares, but thankfully no animals were caught in them. Snares can only be set with the landowner's permission. On this occasion, the snares were set within private forestry land on the shooting estate and we believed that no permission had been given. It appeared to us therefore that those snares might be illegally set.

Sadly, the killing of wildlife appears to be on the increase with an ever-increasing number of raptors being found killed deliberately across Scotland, and illegal trapping and snaring being discovered almost on a routine basis. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

See the BBC Scotland documentary Fair Game? on BBC 2 Scotland tonight at 9pm, Tuesday 11 May - or catch it on the iPlayer.

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