Adopt

Spring traps and the Law

Spring traps are most commonly used to kill (or ‘control’) mammals on shooting estates by breaking their backs. They consist of a trigger plate and some form of smooth jaws which snap across the animal making (in theory) a clean and instant kill. The Fenn Traps illustrated here are examples of the spring traps in common use.

All spring traps must be approved by Defra.

In England and Wales under the Pest Act 1954, section 8, in Scotland under the Agriculture (Scotland) Act 1948, section 50, and in Northern Ireland under the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, section 11, it is an offence, in respect of any animal to use or permit the use of a spring trap not approved by the government agencies under Spring Trap Approval Orders (STAOs).
 
  • Spring traps should be set in an artificial or natural tunnel to prevent the access of non-target species (it is illegal to lay them in the open) and the entrance of trap tunnels should be restricted or narrowed to prevent the entry of non-target species.
  • In Scotland, the trap ‘must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is suitable for minimising the chances of capturing, killing or injuring nontarget species whilst not compromising the killing or taking of target species’.
  • Spring traps should be set as ‘to prevent an unlawful catch of the target species’ ie not set with a risk of the animal being caught by the leg or tail.
  • Spring traps should be firmly anchored.
  • Spring traps should be checked at regular intervals based on legislative requirements.
  • Spring traps must not be set in open or accessible areas where members of the public, animals and pets can gain access to them.
 
  • The use of leg-hold or gin traps (a form of spring trap, often with toothed jaws) has been banned in England and Wales since 1958 and fully banned in Scotland since 1973. Their primary purpose was to trap and hold a range of animals from rabbits and foxes right up to animals as large as bears which would be killed later. Horribly cruel, it is nonetheless legal to own (or sell) a gin trap (to be displayed as a curio on a pub wall perhaps), but it is illegal to use a gin trap or to possess it for an unlawful purpose – ie trapping animals.

First introduced in 1957, all approved spring traps are listed on Spring Traps Approval Orders (STAOs).

It is an offence, in respect of any animal to use or permit the use of a spring trap not approved by the government agencies under Spring Trap Approval Orders.
 

STAOs contain a number of details and rules for specific trap designs, such as the species which they are permitted to be set for, the circumstances in which they can be used, and any particular requirements relating to their use.

  • In Scotland the STAO is issued under sections 50(3) and 85(3) of the Agriculture Scotland Act 1948 as amended By the Pests Act 1954 and the Scotland Act 1998.
  • In England and Wales it is issued under sections 8(3) and (7) of the Pests Act 1954.
  • In Northern Ireland it is issued under articles 12A(2) and 12A(3) of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.

 

In effect, STAOs are developed from legislation that is supposed to monitor how ‘humanely’ ‘pest’ animals can be killed in spring traps. In reality the approval orders are largely formulated after extensive consultation with the shooting and agriculture lobbies and allow a ‘business as usual’ approach.

The Spring Traps Approval (England) Order 2018 set out an updated list of which traps could be used to kill which species of mammal and the specific conditions of their use. It revoked and replaced the Spring Traps Approval Order 2012 (S.I. 2012/13), which approved types of spring trap for use in England and two subsequent variation Orders (article 3). If other traps are being used to kill eg Grey Squirels or mustelids they probably have not been approved.

The Spring Traps Approval (Variation) (England) Order 2021 added the Perdix SpringTrap, altered the wording for the Tully Trap, and made several other small changes.

A “Guide to Approved Spring Traps in Scotland and rest of UK” was published as a pdf by SASA (a Division of the Scottish Government Agriculture and Rural Economy Directorate) in February 2021.

The law says that:

(a) the trap must be used in accordance with the instructions (if any) provided by the manufacturer; and

(b) so far as is practicable without unreasonably compromising its use for killing or taking target species, the trap must be used in a manner that minimises the likelihood of its killing, taking or injuring non-target species.

 

Note that some of the traps listed below were approved for the killing of Stoats but – where specified – approval for their use for this purpose has been withdrawn since 1st April 2020.

  • BMI Magnum 55 / 110/ 116 (all manufactured by or under the authority of Butera Manufacturing Industries, Cleveland, USA). These traps may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels, rats, mice and other small mammals (except for those species listed in Schedule 5 or 6 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981(1)). The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose.
 
  • DOC (or Department of Conservation) 150 /200 /250 (all manufactured by or under the authority of the Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand). Where used in a closed-end trap configuration, these traps may be used only for the purpose of killing ferrets, Grey Squirrels, rats, Stoats and weasels. These traps must be set in an artificial tunnel constructed to the design specified by the Department of Conservation, using materials suitable for the purpose. Where used in a run-through trap configuration, these traps may be used only for the purpose of killing rats, Stoats and weasels. These traps must be set in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions for the run-through configuration in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose.
 
  • Duke 116 (manufactured by or under the authority of Duke Company, West Point, MS, USA). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels. The trap must be set in an artificial tunnel which is suitable for the purpose.
 
  • Fenn Rabbit Trap Mark I (manufactured by or under the authority of DB Springs, Redditch, Worcestershire). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing rabbits. The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose.
 
  • Fenn Vermin Trap Mark IV (Heavy Duty and Dual Purpose) (both manufactured by or under the authority of DB Springs, Redditch, Worcestershire). The traps may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels, weasels, rats, mice and other small mammals (except for those species listed in Schedule 5 or 6 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) but AFTER 1st April 2020 NOT Stoat. The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose.
 
  • Fuller Trap (manufactured by or under the authority of Fuller Industries, Three Trees, Loxwood Road, Bucks Green, Rudgwick, Sussex). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels. The trap must be set within the housing provided by the manufacturer.
 
  • Goodnature A18 Grey Squirrel Trap (manufactured by or under the authority of Goodnature Limited, Wellington, New Zealand). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels and rats. The trap must be so placed that it can only be entered by way of an artificial tunnel which is suitable for the purpose.
 
  • Goodnature A18 Mink Trap (manufactured by or under the authority of Goodnature Limited, Wellington, New Zealand). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing mink. The trap must be so placed that it can only be entered by way of an artificial tunnel which is suitable for the purpose.
 
  • Goodnature A24 Pro (manufactured by or under the authority of Goodnature Limited, Wellington, New Zealand). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing rats and mice. The trap must be so placed that it can only be entered by way of an artificial tunnel which is suitable for the purpose.
 
  • Goodnature A24 Rat and Stoat Trap (manufactured by or under the authority of Goodnature Limited, Wellington, New Zealand). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing Stoats, rats, weasels and mice. The trap must be so placed that it can only be entered by way of an artificial tunnel which is suitable for the purpose.
 
  • Kania Trap 2000 (manufactured by or under the authority of Kania Industries Inc, British Colombia, Canada). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels, mink, weasels, Edible Dormice (Glis glis)(2), rats, mice and other small mammals (except for those species listed in Schedule 5 or 6 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981), but AFTER 1st April 2020 NOT Stoat. The trap must be set within the housing provided by the manufacturer. NB the Kania Trap 2500 is similar but must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose.
 
  • KORO Large Rodent Double Coil Spring Snap Trap (manufactured by or under the authority of Koro Traps, Manitoba, Canada). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels and rats. The trap must be so positioned that animals can only enter it from the front, and set within an artificial blind tunnel which is suitable for the purpose. (The front is the side from which the letters KORO can be read face-on and the correct way up.) NB the KORO Rodent Snap Trap is similar but may be used only for the purpose of killing rats and weasels.
 
  • Nooski (manufactured by or under the authority of Nooski Trap Systems, Rotorua, New Zealand). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing rats. The trap must be set within the housing and artificial tunnel provided by the manufacturer. NB the Nooski mouse trap is similar but may be used only for the purpose of killing mice.
 
  • Perdix Spring Trap (manufactured by Perdix Wildlife Supplies, Stratford Upon Avon, Warwickshire). Approved for trapping Stoats in England and Scotland on January 1st 2021, and in Wales in Oct 2021. The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing or taking Grey Squirrels, rats, Stoats and weasels. The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose.
 
  • Procull Trap (manufactured by or under the authority of Elgeeco, Winchester, Hampshire). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels.
 
  • Skinns Superior Squirrel Trap (manufactured by or under the authority of E. Skinns Ltd. Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels. The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose.
 
  • Solway Spring Trap Mk4 / Mk6 (manufactured by or under the authority of Solway Feeders Ltd., Dundrennan, Kirkcudbright). These traps may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels, weasels, edible dormice (Glis glis), rats, mice, but AFTER 1st April 2020 NOT Stoat. The traps must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose.
 
  • Springer No. 4 Multi-purpose (Heavy Duty)/ Springer No. 6 Multi-purpose (manufactured by or under the authority of AB County Products Ltd. Redditch, Worcestershire). The traps may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels, weasels, rats, mice, other small mammals (except for those species listed in Schedule 5 or 6 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) but AFTER 1st April 2020 NOT Stoat. The traps must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose.
 
  • Tully Trap (manufactured by or under the authority of KM Pressings Ltd, Hull, East Yorkshire). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing Stoats, weasels, rats, and Grey Squirrels. The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose. Where used for Grey Squirrels, the trap must be fitted with baffles for Grey Squirrels supplied by the manufacturer or constructed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Baffles fitted onto a trap must be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
 
  • VS squirrel trap (manufactured by, or under licence from, Pescon Services, Stevenage, Hertfordshire). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels. The trap must be set within the artificial tunnel provided by the manufacturer.
 
  • WCS Collarum Stainless UK Fox Model (manufactured by or under the authority of Wildlife Control Supplies, East Granby, CT, USA). The trap may be used only for the purpose of taking foxes.
 
  • WCS Tube Trap International (manufactured by or under the authority of Wildlife Control Supplies, East Granby, CT, USA). The trap may be used only for the purpose of killing Grey Squirrels, mink, weasels, and rats but AFTER 1st April 2020 NOT Stoat. The trap must be set within the artificial tunnel provided by the manufacturer for use in the UK.
 
  • WiseTrap 110 (article number 100110 or 110110), WiseTrap 160 (article number 100160, 110160, 101160 or 111160), WiseTrap 200 (article number 100200, 110200, 101200 or 111200) and WiseTrap 250 (article number 101250 or 111250) manufactured by WiseCon A/S, Helsinge, Denmark. These traps  may be used only for the purpose of killing rats. The trap must be set within a sewer, drainpipe, or similar structure.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, (England, Wales and Scotland) and Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 state it is illegal to:

  • Set in position a trap calculated to cause bodily injury to any wild animal in Schedule 6 (most UK  animals are protected from being killed or taken by certain methods under Section 11(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 with the exception of what the governmant of the day call ‘pest species’: most notably including foxes, hares, mink, stoats and weasels).
  • Intentionally (or recklessly) kill, injure or take any wild animal included in Schedule 5.

 

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 (England and Wales) and Animal Health and Welfare Scotland (Act) 2006 and Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 state:

  • An animal is a ‘protected animal’ for the purposes of this Act if it is under control of man whether on a permanent or temporary basis.
  • A captured animal must not suffer and should be provided with appropriate shelter, water and food. (Spring traps are designed to kill so an operator would not necessarily provide food and water, but they must be aware of the requirement to ensure no suffering occurs.

 

The Protection of Animals Act 1911 states:

  • Where spring traps are used for the purpose of catching, or which are so placed as to be likely to catch any hare or rabbit they should be inspected at reasonable intervals of time and at least once every day between sunrise and sunset. (Apart from spring traps set in holes for rabbits and hares, there are no statutory requirements regarding inspection frequency for the wide range of approved traps that can be used against other species.)

 

The Pest Act 1954, Agricultural (Scotland) act 1948 and Wildlife and Natural Environment Act 2011 (Northern Ireland) states:

  • It is an offence to use a spring trap not approved by the government agencies under the spring trap approval orders.
  • It is an offence to use, or to permit the use, of a spring trap in unapproved circumstances.
  • It is an offence to sell, or possess any spring trap for such an unlawful purpose.

Spring traps can ONLY be used to trap a small number of mammals – NEVER birds – that the government (and the shooting and agriculture lobbies) lists as ‘pest species’ and/or non-native species that don’t have the same protection in UK law as native species.

  • Grey Squirrel (but not Red Squirrel)
  • Brown and Black Rat
  • House Mouse
  • Rabbit
  • Brown Hare (but not Mountain Hare)
  • Mink
  • Stoat (but only using DOC Traps, Perdix Spring Traps,  Goodnature A24 bolt trap, and Tully Traps)
  • Weasel
  • Edible Dormouse (but only under licence CL02)

 

NO OTHER SPECIES can be legally killed in a spring trap.

 

The Small Ground Vermin Traps Order 1958 states that “The traps referred to in the Schedule to this Order are, for the purposes of subsection (5) of section 8 of the Pests Act, 1954, hereby specified as being adapted solely for the destruction of rats, mice or other small ground vermin” but the Act does not specify what species constitute ‘small ground vermin’ and may include the Wood/Long-tailed Field Mouse Apodemus sylvaticus.

Approval to trap ferrets with the DOC 250 spring trap was removed in 2021 because of the risk to non-target species. They must now be caught using live capture traps.

It is illegal to kill birds in spring traps, but note that live capture ‘spring-loaded net traps’ are legally used to trap birds for the purpose of ringing under licence.

Huge numbers of spring traps are set by gamekeepers, mostly to kill small mammals such as stoats and weasels. They are often attached to logs deliberately placed for animals to use to cross over gullies or streams on moors (when they’re commonly referred to as a rail or bridge trap), or along the bottom of dry stone walls where they may be hidden by a large stone or in a wooden box.

A tunnel trap is an alternative name for a spring trap that is placed inside both natural and artificially constructed tunnels.

The intended purpose of the tunnel is to impose selectivity over the range of species that can be caught by excluding those too large to fit into the tunnel containing the trap.

Many spring traps can only be used legally when placed inside tunnels. The law says, ‘The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose‘. No clear indication is given what is considered ‘suitable’, but the statement is clear that spring traps NOT being used inside tunnels are being used improperly and therefore illegally.

Used in huge numbers on (especially) grouse shooting estates, ‘rail (or bridge) traps’ are spring traps set on a rail (a wooden plank, pole or log) laid across a dry ditch, watercourse or breach in a dyke. The ‘rail’ provides a crossing point for the animal which won’t see the trap until it triggers a powerful spring bar which snaps shut across their neck.

Like all spring traps they must be covered to prevent so-called ‘non target species’ being caught. Most are set inside mesh ‘cages’ and the entrances narrowed or baffled. Many’non-target species’ have been caught, including – in one well-publicised incident – a young male Merlin: an RSPB blog revealed that the entrance at both ends of the cage were not narrowed allowing the Merlin in.

The law says about spring traps that, ‘The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is, in either case, suitable for the purpose‘. No clear indication is given what is considered ‘suitable’, but the statement is clear that spring traps NOT being used inside tunnels are being used improperly and therefore illegally.

 

Yes, pole traps are spring traps (typically an uncovered gin (or leg-hold) trap or a Fenn trap) – but they are illegal. The use of pole traps was banned across the UK in 1904.

They are still found in use today however.

They are most often found set on top of posts close to pheasant rearing pens or exposed posts on grouse moors. They are placed there by gamekeepers to illegally catch a bird of prey (raptor). When the raptor lands on the trap the jaws snap around the leg(s) typically breaking bones. The bird is usually preventing from flying away as the trap will have been nailed down, though in 2019 a young Golden Eagle was photographed in flight over the Cairngorms trailling a spring trap. Trapped raptors are usually left dangling from the post and suffer a prolonged and agonising death.

Pole traps should be REPORTED to the police immediately and if possible safely disarmed: use a stick to ‘spring’ the jaws but NEVER use your fingers – these traps close quickly and with such force they can easily break bones.

From the 1st April 2020, only traps that have passed testing criteria set out within the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) can be used for trapping Stoats in the UK.

Stoats are widely trapped on shooting estates. Defra moved Stoats to Schedule 6 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act in 2020 making it a protected species but there is still a general licence allowing Stoats to be caught using traps approved under the Spring Trap Approval Order 2018.

Permitted traps (last updated by Natural England in September 2022) now include:

  • DOC 150 body grip kill trap
  • DOC 200 body grip kill trap
  • DOC 250 body grip kill trap
  • Tully Trap body grip kill trap
  • Goodnature A24 rat and stoat captive bolt kill trap
  • Perdix spring trap body grip kill trap
  • Perdix mink live capture cage trap

 

After 1 April 2020 it became an offence to trap Stoats using.

  • BMI Magnum 55, 110 and 116;
  • Fenn Marks IV (heavy duty) and VI (dual purpose);
  • Kania Trap 2000 and 2500;
  • Solway Spring Trap Marks 4 and 6;
  • Springer No. 4 Multi-purpose (Heavy Duty);
  • WCS tube trap international;
  • Plus a few ‘legacy’ models (e.g. Juby, Imbra) that are no longer manufactured.

 

The traps authorised for the killing of Stoats are claimed to be humane as they kill Stoats ‘more quickly’ – in no more than 45 seconds rather than several minutes.

Ridiculously, Natural England also stated in September 2022 that “You can apply for a licence to use an uncertified trap which is suitable for the humane trapping of the target species”.

 

 

In Scotland, Nature Scot Published “General licence – GL14/2023 – To use certain traps to kill stoats for the conservation of wild birds or for prevention of serious damage to livestock” which is valid across Scotland from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2023.

They listed which traps may be used to trap Stoats and their conditions of use:

DOC 150/200/250

The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is suitable for minimising the chances of capturing, killing or injuring non-target species whilst not compromising the killing of stoat. The tunnel may be closed-end or a run-through configuration. In either case the tunnel must include an internal baffle arrangement that conforms to the type described in the Department of Conservation’s design specifications as set out in the Predator Trap Instructions UK and published on SASA’s website (www.sasa.gov.uk)  on 10th February 2021.

Tully Trap

The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is suitable for minimising the chances of capturing, killing or injuring non-target species whilst not compromising the killing or taking of stoat.

Tully trap fitted with baffles for grey squirrels.

The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is suitable for minimising the chances of capturing, killing or injuring non-target species whilst not compromising the killing or taking of target species.

The trap must be fitted with baffles for grey squirrels supplied by the manufacturer or constructed to the manufacturer’s specifications as set out in the ‘Tully Trap Grey Squirrel Baffle Instructions’ produced by the manufacturer and published on SASA’s website (www.sasa.gov.uk) on 10th February 2021. The trap must be positioned in relation to the baffle or baffles so that it conforms to those specifications.

Goodnature A24 rat & stoat trap

The trap must be (a) set in a natural or artificial tunnel or enclosure which is suitable for minimising the chances of capturing, killing or injuring non-target species whilst not compromising the killing or taking of stoat or (b) set at a minimum height of 30cm off the ground and entered by an artificial tunnel attached to the trap and that protrudes for a distance of no less than 70mm from the trap entrance, which is suitable for minimising the chances of capturing, killing or injuring non-target species whilst not compromising the killing or taking of stoat.

Perdix Spring Trap

The trap must be set in a natural or artificial tunnel which is suitable for minimising the chances of capturing, killing or injuring non-target species whilst not compromising the killing or taking of target species.

Perdix Mink cage trap

To comply with the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, when in use, the trap must be physically inspected at least once every day at intervals of no more than 24 hours to see whether any animal is caught in it. Where inspection every 24 hours is not possible because of severe weather conditions, every effort must be made to inspect the cage trap as soon as possible. Such an inspection must be sufficient to determine whether there are any live or dead stoats or other animals or birds in the trap.

 

Yes. In 2020, Natural England publised statutory guidance on trapping Stoats: “Stoats: licence to trap them to conserve wild birds (GL38)” and “Licence to trap stoats to prevent serious damage to livestock (GL39)”

This guidance lists conditions under which GL38 and GL39 can be used, and incredibly it includes allowing gamekeepers to:

“Use this licence [GL38] to conserve the following wild birds which are vulnerable to predation by stoats:

  • game birds in situations when they’re vulnerable to stoat predation..”

 

And…

“Use this licence [GL39] to prevent serious damage to the following livestock which are vulnerable to predation by stoats:

  • domestic poultry and waterfowl
  • game birds and wildfowl while held captive within a fenced pen”

 

So Natural England is indeed allowing the killing of Stoats to ‘protect’ birds reared solely to be shot for fun and profit.

Red Squirrels and their dreys (resting places) receive full protection under Schedules 5 and 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). It is therefore an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take a Red Squirrel, but they can be trapped with a licence. Anyone trapping in an area where Red Squirrels are present (typically for monitoring purposes) should be using live capture traps. These must be checked regularly and the squirrel released unharmed.

Greay Squirrels receive no such protection. Traps used to catch Grey Squirrels are typically lethal kill traps because under the Invasive non-native (alien) animal species regulations (which came into force in December 2019) it’s illegal to release a trapped Grey Squirrel back into the wild (or keep them as pets or let them breed or escape).

‘Humane’ live capture Grey Squirrel traps are still sold (so simply baited cages that hold an animal until release), but the majority of traps are ‘spring traps’ – either metal mesh cages (often mounted in a tree) or Fenn-style ground-based wooden boxes. Both are slightly larger than a squirrel with (usually) a baffled entrance. The traps are baited, often with hazelnuts, and close shut when a squirrel enters. As the squirrel reaches for the bait a plunger is triggered which crushes the animal’s head or a powerful spring bar is triggered which snaps shut. Some designs trigger CO2-filled gas canisters.

 

  • The law states that only approved spring traps can be used and that traps are set in natural or artificial tunnels to reduce the risk of killing so-called ‘non-target’ species.

Shooting estates always state that spring traps – which are designed to snap an animals’ back – are humane , but they can instead cause drawn-out and agonising deaths, snapping the bones of small mammals and birds and trapping them until they die.

Legislation on the traps that could be used to kill Stoats was changed in April 2020 because they were found to be taking too long to die (so were inhumane), though the new legislation says that Stoats should die ‘within 45 seconds’ – which is still far too long to be left dying in a trap with broken bones.

Yes. Many so-called ‘non-target’ species are killed in spring traps despite the traps (supposedly) being placed in tunnels and /or having their entrances restricted (standard advice – advice, not legal instruction – is to restrict the tunnel entrance by the addition of two sticks at each end, primarily to discourage the entry of small birds).

Protected species are also caught in spring traps.

  • For example, in 2017 a Pine Marten was found with its leg caught in a spring trap on a Highland grouse shooting estate in the Monadhliaths.
  • In August 2018 the RSPB detailed the illegal killing of a Merlin in a ‘rail’ spring trap (which had an unrestricted entrance which allowed the Merlin to enter) and stated that “a range of terrestrial species including thrushes, wagtails, dippers, starlings, skylarks have all been reported as caught and killed in such traps“.
  • In 2019 a satellite-tagged Hen Harrier was found caught in an illegal spring trap set on a Perthshire grouse moor.
  • In 2020 a Little Owl was found dead in a Fenn Trap with an improperly wide entrance on the Sandringham Royal Estate.

 

Shouldn’t baffles or narrow entrances become mandatory then? Shooting lobbyists GWCT state, “the use of physical excluders remains discretionary for the tunnel trap operator, who must weigh up the risk of catching a protected non-target against the utility of the trap for its intended purpose” – in other words, killing wild animals on shooting estates trumps removing the risk of non-target animals being caught.

It depends. Because their use is currently legal it is an offence to tamper with a legally-set trap, but if you have any doubts or concerns about a trap you’ve found then take photographs and details and REPORT them to the police on 101.

However, spring traps set on poles to catch birds of prey are both illegal and extremely dangerous. They can be tripped with a long stick – but NEVER use your fingers: these traps close with huge force and can easily break bones.

  • Note that in some areas (especially at sites where the public has access and are more likely to come across a trap) remote cameras have been installed next to cage traps to catch individuals damaging them. These cameras can record audio and video. Cameras may well be placed near Fenn-type spring traps near footpaths etc as well.

 

Wildlife crime is defined as any action which contravenes current legislation governing the protection of the UK’s wild flora and fauna, including species traded in the UK.

Note that wildlife crime does NOT include:

  • Incidents involving domestic or companion animals such as dogs (other than dogs being used to hunt mammals), cats, rabbits, domesticated birds, etc.
  • Wild animals that have been involved (killed or injured etc) in road traffic accidents.

Road accidents with wild animals do not need to be reported to the police, but note that domestic animals (as well as goats, horses, cattle, asses, mules, sheep and pigs) come within the remit of the Road Traffic Act.
If you have a road accident involving these animals you are required by law to report it to the police. If the wild animal is so badly injured in a road accident that there is no chance of recovery or the animal can not be returned to the wild then he or she may be euthanised, providing there is no appropriate long-term captive or semi-captive accommodation or when treatment would involve undue suffering or distress.

If we come across a wildlife crime scene or a dead bird/object that may be related to a wildlife crime every piece of information is – or might be – important, but it needs to be recorded properly and accurately for the authorities to have a chance of prosecuting an offender.

  • Before we do anything else it is very important that we do NOT approach anyone we suspect of committing a crime – they may be violent and/or aggressive. This is especially true of badger baiters and hare coursers who are typically extremely violent. This must be a first priority!
 
What do we need to record?
  • What we can see happening – what sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved, could we or the public be in danger?
  • The exact location. Most smartphones have map apps or download the free What3Words app. If in open countryside look for obvious landmarks or fence lines, a tall or isolated tree, a wind turbine, any streams or brooks etc. Think about what would you need to re find a remote location.
  • It is important to record if at all possible whether we are on or near public land as this will determine the type of police response.
  • Never put ourselves in danger, but can we see who is involved and what they look like (e.g. number of people, their gender(s), age(s), the clothing worn, tools being carried)? Can we hear them – if so what are they saying, are they using any names etc?
  • If any dogs are involved how many are there, what colour are they, do we know what breed they are (even information like ‘terriers’ or ‘lurcher-types’ can be very useful).
  • The make, colour and registration number of any vehicle (we can take photos of a car if we think it is being used or might be used to commit a crime). Does it have any obvious dents, branding or markings, spotlights, bullbars etc.

 

DO and DO NOT

  • Do NOT disturb the scene by walking around unnecessarily – small pieces of evidence (cigarette ends, footprints, the marks left by a spade etc) may be lost or trampled into the mud or grass.
  • If photographing an object do try to use eg a coin or a notebook/field guide for scale – providing it won’t disturb the crime scene.
  • If in the countryside take wide angle photographs of any landmarks (a tree, a distinctive fenceline, a hill) that might help officers relocate the crime scene. DO NOT mark a site with eg a white plastic bag though. Being able to see a marker from a distance might sound like a good idea, but it will also alert an offender that someone has been at the site: they may go back and remove the evidence.
  • Do NOT move any items at the scene – the exception being if they are likely to disappear before the police arrive when we can collect them as evidence.
  • Do NOT touch any dead birds or animals with bare hands. They may be poisoned baits or victims of poisoning. Many poisons (eg Carbofuran) are extremely dangerous in even very small amounts and can be absorbed through the skin.
  • Do NOT do anything illegal ourselves – that might mean our evidence is not admissible.
 If we see a wildlife crime taking place (or someone is at risk of getting injured or is being threatened) call 999 immediately.
They will want to know what we can see happening:
  • What sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved
  • Could we or the public be in danger
  • Do we have photos or video footage which may be used as evidence
  • Tell whoever you REPORT the crime to exactly what you have RECORDED as described in the section above.
 
To report a historic crime – that is, a crime that is no longer taking place – use 101 or a local organisation instead.
  • If calling the police ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer and make sure to get an Incident Report number.
  • Please always follow any advice given and – if they are not available – insist that a Wildlife Crime Officer is made aware of your report.
  •  Our options are wider if the event is over, and it may be preferable to talk first to a charity or NGO to get advice. Crimestoppers (an independent charity) can be contacted in complete confidence on 0800 555 111
  • When thinking about reporting a crime it’s worth noting that only the police have statutory powers to make an arrest. RSPCA and RSPB investigation officers work with the police for successful prosecutions.
 
Reporting a wildlife crime (or even a suspected wildlife crime) is important for two reasons.
  • If the event is still happening it may enable the authorities to catch the criminals ‘in the act’ (which means a higher chance of prosecution),
  • and if the event is over a report can still help to build up a more accurate picture of what might be happening in a specific location or across the country as a whole.
Our help is always welcomed
  • Whoever we decide to contact we have been assured that our help is welcomed and that if we’re in any doubt that what we’re seeing is a crime we should report it anyway. Remember, if what we see ‘feels’ wrong, it probably is!
  • Even if we’re not sure about what we’re seeing, we can take a photograph and email it to the police or an investigations officer – they are trained to quickly recognise for example when a snare is illegally placed, whether a trap is being used illegally, or whether a crime is being committed or not.
  • We may help stop or solve future crimes by helping build up a pattern of behaviour in an area.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault, or what we should do if we’re arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in over thirty simple, mobile-friendly pages just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault or harassment, or what we should do if we’re stopped and searched or even arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in forty-one simple, mobile-friendly pages and over 500 FAQs just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource with two aims: to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution; and to provide a ‘quick guide’ to anyone interacting with hunts, hunt supporters, or the police.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to, and the more we know our rights the better we can protect ourselves.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit currently has seven priority offences for wildlife crime.

Badger persecution

It is illegal to interfere with or block a badger’s home or ‘sett’. Badger baiting is a centuries-old now illegal blood sport, where small dogs such as terriers or lurchers seek badgers out of their setts before fighting and killing them.

Bat persecution

Bats and their homes are legally protected, so disturbing or removing them is an offence. If bats roost in your roof, you need to obtain a special ‘bat mitigation licence’ from Natural England to be allowed to disturb them. They are hugely important to our ecosystem.

Trade of endangered species

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) sets out which endangered animals and plants have protected status. It is illegal to remove any of them from their natural habitat, possess, or sell them. Currently, the top priorities are European eels, birds of prey, ivory, medicinal and health products, reptiles, rhino horns, and timber.

Freshwater pearl mussel offences

These Endangered mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera) are only found in rivers in Scotland and small parts of England. They can live for more than 130 years but are extremely sensitive to water pollution and have been illegally farmed for years. It is illegal to damage or destroy their habitat or to take, injure or kill them.

Poaching

Fox, deer, and hare hunting are all illegal under the Hunting Act 2004. Poaching offences also cover illegal fishing – when anglers do not obtain a licence or remove protected fish from lakes and rivers without returning them.

Raptor persecution

Birds of prey are often targeted on shooting estates. Their eggs are also traded illegally. It is an offence to target, poison, or kill them, with a particular focus on Golden Sagles, Goshawks, Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Red Kites, and White-tailed Eagles. Disturbing or taking their eggs or chicks is also illegal.

Cyber-enabled wildlife crime

Social media is often used to promote wildlife crime and recruit people to take part in it. Endangered plants and animals are also traded illegally online.

  • Punishment must fit the crime. Conditional discharges and paltry fines are not a disincentive for criminals.

A common complaint is that even if wildlife criminals are brought to court the fines or sentences they get are pathetic and not a disincentive. In most cases judges are giving out the penalties they are allowed to under the law. Changes can be made though. In 2022 the maximum sentence for ‘causing uneccesary suffering’ went from six months to five years. That was the result of targeted public pressure and campaigning. We need to identify where changes should be made and push hard for them.

 

  • Wildlife crime must be notifiable and statistics accurately compiled so that resources can be properly targeted.

Police forces are required by law to inform the Home Office of any notifiable offences, which then uses the reports to compile the crime statistics known as ‘recorded crime’. Currently, wildlife crimes are not ‘notifiable’ though (and wildlife crime involving firearms are also not recorded as firearms offences by the Police).  Without them being notifiable, no one knows how many wildlife crimes are being committed across the UK and where the hotspots are (though ‘grouse moors’ is one obvious response). As we have stated many times on this website, law and legislative enforcement is hugely underfunded and under-resourced. Some of this has undoubtedly been through political choice, but if we at least know which crimes are being committed and where, the resources that are available can be placed where they are needed most.

 

  • There must be changes to make it far easier for all of us to play our part in ‘Recognising, Reporting, Recording’ wildlife cime.

As even a quick glance at the Protectors pages makes clear, laws protecting wildlife are hard to understand. Major pieces of legislation like the Hunting Act 2004  and other laws are riddled with exemptions which strongly favour the hunting, shooting, and agricultural industries. Some date from a century or more ago and don’t reflect the modern world. These need to be updated. While there has undoubtedly been efforts made by successive governmants to use ‘plain english’ to explain legislation, any government wanting to tackle wildlife crime needs to make understanding what is and what isn’t a crime far more easily understood and put resources into a reporting system that the public feel confident using. Crucially, the public need to be sure that if they do report a crime it will be acted upon.

 

  • We have to protect the environment and wildlife properly.

Laws protecting wildlife and the environment need to be revised to reflect the 21st century and the biodiversity and climate crises we are in. Animals (and plants) are not an add-on or a ‘nice to have’ – they have shaped the systems that life depends on, and our laws need to reflect how critically important they are.

 

If you’d like to support just one legislative change, Protect the Wild has launched ‘The Hunting of Mammals Bill: A Proper Ban on Hunting‘ – please sign our petition calling for a proper ban on hunting with dogs.

We would like Protectors of the Wild to be the ‘go to’ free resource, packed with the kind of information that really does help all of us become ‘eyes in the field. But we can’t possibly think of every question that might need answering or every situation someone might find themselves in! And while the information in these pages is largely taken from Government online advice and was compiled in 2023 (and constantlyy updated), perhaps we’ve missed something out.

If you could provide us with legal advice get in touch. Or if you find a mistake or a gap please let us know. That way we can continually improve Protectors of the Wild – for the benefit of animals and all of us. Thanks.

‘Protectors of the Wild’ is a project of Protect the Wild. We have a dedicated email address for anyone wishing to get in touch with a specific Protectors query or with additional information etc. Please use the form on our Contact Protectors page or email protectors@protectthewild.org.uk. Thank you.

Much of the information we give in these pages is very technical or to do with legislation which can be revised without much notice. While we have worked very hard on these pages and we take keeping our information accurate and up-to-date very seriously, Protect the Wild are not legal professionals. Just to make sure no-one thinks we’re offering professional legal advice, we feel obliged to include the following disclaimer on every page.

  • Please think of the ‘Protectors of the Wild’ pages as a ‘first stop’ before seeking legal advice. We provide detailed information but not professional advice. The information provided by Protect the Wild should NOT be considered or relied on as legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Any of the material on our website may be out of date at any given time, and we are under no legal obligation to update such material. While we update and revise as often as we can, Protect the Wild assumes no responsibility for the accuracy and correctness of any information, or for any consequences of relying on it. Please do not act or refrain from acting upon this information without seeking professional legal advice.