Banning Snares: a parliamentary debate in name only

On January 9th MPs gathered in a room in Westminster Hall to debate e-petition 600593, which as the 102,616 people who signed it will remember was a demand by Animal Aid that “The Government should prohibit the sale, use and manufacture of free-running snares under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, putting them in the same category as self-locking snares, which are already illegal.”

The debate was relayed live and is now online, but several of us (including myself for Protect the Wild, Iain Green and Jessamy Korotoga from Animal Aid, Dr Jane Evans, and Will Morton from League Against Cruel Sports) went to see the debate for ourselves.


Let’s play shooting industry bingo. ‘Humane’ ‘restraint devices’ ‘better than the old snares’ ‘balance’ (the card is filling up in the first few minutes) ‘Curlews, Lapwings, and Plovers’ ‘vermin’ ‘pests’ ‘animal welfare considerations’ (okay, that’s most of it filled now) ‘Control’ ‘Farmers’ ‘Gamebirds and Gamekeepers’ ‘We know best’ and (for the full house) ‘Cancel Culture and the countryside way’….BINGO.

Chucking in nonsense about foxes taking ‘Lambs’ was a bit of an outlier but I suppose I have to grudgingly admire the members for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher (Con) who opened the debate) and Strangford (the florid Jim Shannon (DUP)) for managing to shoehorn every line from the BASC and Countryside Alliance playbook on ‘Why we should buck the European trend and keep snaring’ in such a short time.

The shooting industry will have been delighted…particularly that their recently invented trope that snaring unknown numbers of foxes to protect the millions of birds they rear for the gun is somehow vital to save Lapwings and Curlews is now so embedded that few politicians even bother to point out that it’s wetland loss, cropping fields once full of nests for silage, and the vanishing numbers of invertebrates that these birds depend on that is doing for Curlews and Lapwings not foxes. Still, why let the truth get in the way of the straw that shooting clings to (we’ve written about just that under our species account for the Curlew)

I wrote and recorded a short podcast before going up to London for this debate in which I rather scathingly predicted that there wouldn’t be much of a ‘debate’ at all and that there was no chance of Defra (the government Department for farming and shooting, who was represented by former Transport Minister and Parliamentary newcomer Trudy Harrison) agreeing to do anything at all about snares.

Despite Jim Shannon’s overt efforts on behalf of the very few people who actually use wire nooses to trap and kill wildlife, I’ll happily admit I was wrong about the ‘debate’ part.

Thanks to impassioned but detailed contributions from a consistently pro-animal group of cross-party MPs (including Olivia Blake, Tracey Crouch, Margaret Ferrier, Ruth Jones, and Rachael Maskell), the point was clearly made that snares are ‘cruel and indiscriminate’, that trapping animals who don’t want to be trapped and will do everything they can to escape before they dehydrate or get preyed on by other animals isn’t ‘humane’, and that just because the Codes of Practice politely ask gamekeepers to check their snares every day with so many thousands being laid it was ‘not practically possible’ to do so.

The fact that so many people had signed Animal Aid’s petition (and getting the public to sign in large numbers is increasingly difficult) was repeatedly pointed out, leading to calls that the government ‘needs to wake up’. That opinion polls show a large majority against snares was mentioned by all the MPs (except of course Mr Shannon). It was stated again and again that if ‘predator control’ had to take place (and not all MPs have been taken in by the insistence of lobbyists that it’s not money but foxes that are the root of all evil), then there were plenty of modern, high-tech alternatives (though as I stated in the podcast I mentioned above what gamekeepers especially like about snares is that they’re cheap and are easily replaced if you forget were you put the damnable things).

So once Mr Shannon had spent his 20 minutes praising the work of gamekeepers and the critical importance of snares to biodiversity (yeah, I’m not totally convinced even he believes that one) and had sat down again to ‘harumph’ occasionally, it was actually heartening to see for myself that there is – in fact – a great deal of support for animals and animal welfare in Parliament. And that it’s not the UK per se that is holding out to keep snares, but – specifically – England and Northern Ireland.

As Ruth Jones stressed Wales is moving towards a complete ban (joining almost all of Europe in getting rid of them). Scotland is reviewing their use and looks almost certain to ban them too. England on the other hand is digging its heels in and not even delivering on its promise of a Call for Evidence on the use of snares. That was made during Boris Johnson’s brief flirtation with animal welfare, prompting Rachael Maskell to ask Ms Harrison to clarify whether a date for this evidence to be taken had been set: ‘no’ came the short response.

Again and again, we were told that the ‘impact of snares is clear’. That the ‘infliction of suffering on any creature is unacceptable’. That in a review to the Scottish government an expert called to give evidence had described snares as ‘primitive’ and stated that they caused ‘horrific injuries’. That even if they didn’t like foxes, Defra’s own research found that more than two-thirds of the animals caught in snares were not the target animal (foxes) but protected species like badgers, otters and hares. Even cats and dogs were being caught.


Why then are there ‘no plans’ to ban snares in England?

Why? Could it possibly be that both Houses of the English parliament are stuffed with shooting estate owners and that the shooting industry has its cold, cheerless fingers wrapped tightly around the levers of power via Defra? Pure speculation on my part (m’lud), but as Trudy Harrison got to her feet to give the government response to the debate, I wrote in my notes “Going to say current rules are sufficient”.

I was right. Muddling laws with Codes of Practice (which is what essentially governs snare use) Ms Harrison rattled off sentences from a briefing sheet that more or less mirrored Mr Shannon’s, and we ran through the whole shooting industry ‘Bingo’ card one more time.

Yes we all love animals, she said, but snares are really rather nice things now (I may be paraphrasing slightly). Gamekeepers are loveable lads who are just doing their best to protect pheasants – I mean Curlews and Lapwings. And plovers. We have to control predators and maintain ‘balance’ and that snares are (I quote) “appropriate” for some species (as an aside I can find no evidence that Ms Harrison has any working knowledge of ecology or could explain what a ‘balanced’ ecosystem would look like – she actually admitted that she didn’t even know Defra’s position on snares and had to visit the .gov website before the debate to find out).

I don’t want to single out Trudy Harrison for derision, but she was clearly utterly clueless on the subject. In-fighting, career terminations, and a desperate need to find loyalists who will support the government position has seen the Conservatives trawl ever shallower depths over the thirteen years they’ve held power. Our wildlife, battling to survive habitat loss, biodiversity loss, massive over use of pesticides, and climate change deserve better than this. As Ruth Jones put it in an exasperated interruption, “If the government won’t act, they should get out of the way”.


A ‘debate’ in name only

My ‘debate’ dig proved semi-right. Yes, there was a discussion and every argument to ban snares was eloquently, accurately, and forcibly presented, but the government were never going to act. They were always going to stall and prevaricate and maintain the status quo on behalf of agriculture and shooting. Much like the parliamentary debate on ‘trail hunting’ in April 2022, they were always going to say that current protections were strong enough, that it was somehow vital to the countryside to continue, and then toss us a bone by saying they would discuss it more. At some point. Not now, but soon. Probably.

So after years of gathering signatures, working very hard to convince the public that snares should be banned, and then coming up against a stonewalling politician who looked for all the world that she’d prefer to discuss road-building and striking train drivers rather than snares, what did Animal Aid think about the debate?

I asked AA’s director Iain Green, one of the sector’s most likeable people, what he thought:

“Generally very positive but frustrating that no commitment from the Minister for the next steps. It’s time to follow Wales and get on with the ban.”

Admirably self-restrained and glass half full…



So what are the next steps?

Iain was of course right. However you cut it, it is positive that two of the devolved governments are well on the road to ban snares. Here in England though we’ve probably exhausted the petition route now as the current government clearly has no intention of changing course. Also positive is that far, far more people now know that snaring is still a widespread practice intimately entwined with the shooting industry (which is something we at Protect the Wild will be highlighting in the coming weeks), even if banning it seems unlikely in the short-term.

On the plus side, too, there has been a notable outcry on social media condemning what happened in this debate. Many people just can’t comprehend that with such an overwhelming majority in favour of a snare ban the government haven’t appeared to listen, and has supported the views of lobby groups like BASC and the CA instead.

So what next? There will be a general election in the next eighteen months. While I want to make absolutely clear that Protect the Wild has no specific political affiliation (if the Conservative party was filled with the likes of the admirable Tracey Crouch our wildlife would be in a far better place) it does seem to me anyway that while we have this particular set of politicians in power there is little hope of tangible relief for our wildlife, our land, our water, or our climate.

Which for all of us perhaps makes ‘the next step’ deciding whether that’s good enough or not.


  • (Images: screengrabs showing (from top) the committee room, Ruth Jones, Olivia Blake, Rachael Maskell and the ‘audience’, Tracey Crouch)