On 24th February 2011 a gamekeeper was convicted in Forfar Sheriff Court of setting snares illegally.
I had discovered these snares on a visit to a shooting estate where pheasants were being reared for shooting.
There were pheasant pens everywhere and surrounding them were snares. Some of the snares had been set legally, but others appeared to have been crudely and unlawfully set. Next to some of these snares there were Fenn traps, which are like giant steel mouse traps.
Set in the correct way, these are unfortunately a legal method of killing animals such as stoats, weasels and rats (watch out for my future blogs on these traps and how to spot an illegal spring trap during your country walks). On closer inspection these Fenn traps had clearly been set next to the snares to be used as leg hold traps and any animal, such as a fox or badger, caught in such a trap would certainly sustain serious injury, crushing or breaking of the leg. It is unclear who set these Fenn traps, as the two keepers who managed the area denied knowledge of them.
However, one keeper did admit to setting the snares after I called the police in to investigate these crimes. I know far too well from first-hand experience that, even though no animals had been caught in the offending snares, the outcome for any animal caught in such a trap could have been unimaginable suffering and ultimately death.
Unfortunately, though we are talking about illegal snares in this instance, the suffering and death of wild animals in legal snares can be just as unpleasant. The images I have in my mind from other cases of snaring will never leave me and as for the photos and film images, they are far too disturbing to produce here.
I am very happy by this conviction, but disappointed that more charges against the keeper relating to illegal setting of snares as well as possession of an illegal poison was not pursued by the courts and the not guilty plea by the gamekeeper was accepted.
What we must remind ourselves when we talk about discoveries of illegal snares is that these devices are almost exclusively set far away in remote areas of our countryside and so anything uncovered will be just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, indications since the new Snares (Scotland) Order came in last March are that some gamekeepers are continuing to flout the law.
Let us celebrate this recent conviction, but let us also be mindful that snares are cruel, indiscriminate and totally unnecessary and are still out there in their thousands.