OneKind is calling for a comprehensive review of the welfare issues surrounding the trapping and killing of wild birds.
Wild birds are protected under UK law but landowners and authorised persons, mainly gamekeepers, are allowed to take or kill certain species such as corvids and pigeons without the need for any specific permissions. These exceptions to the law that the rest of us must observe are made under so-called “General Licences” (GL) – a permissive scheme where licences to control certain species are simply published online. GL users require no prior approval and indeed, do not even have to read the GL, simply comply with their terms and conditions.
A suite of new licences produced by SNH, following extensive consultation and review, comes into effect today. The GL of most interest to us are numbered GL01 – 03 and cover different purposes:
- GL01 – conservation of wild birds
- GL02 – prevention of serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables and fruit
- GL03 – public health and safety, prevention of disease spread
Part of the reason for the Scottish review was last year’s challenge by Wild Justice to Natural England and DEFRA, questioning the legal basis for the English General Licences. Without going too far into the legalities of the matter, SNH as the competent authority appears to be satisfied that it has addressed the key point: whether there is no “satisfactory solution” to perceived problems with birds, other than issuing the GL. That may well still be challenged.
Others, including Wild Justice, have commented knowledgeably on the conservation issues around including or removing different species from the GL. Naturally, we welcome the removal of many, including rooks and all species of gulls, from the lists.
At one point, it was feared that the species list on GL02 would actually be extended to include ravens. This suggestion followed some maladroit attempts in 2018 by land managers in Strathbraan, Perthshire, to acquire a licence to kill ravens. Mercifully this was found to be scientifically inadequate and although SNH had initially awarded a licence, it was revoked when challenged. If ravens had been added to GL02 as part of this review, it would have allowed land managers to avoid all such tiresome administration and move straight to the process of control (killing). However, the proposal was strenuously opposed by OneKind and others and it was dropped, although securing an individual licence for ravens is to be streamlined. No doubt observers will watch that process closely.
OneKind’s focus, as always, is on the welfare of the sentient individual and from that perspective the law still leaves our wild birds far too vulnerable.
The new licences do take us a step or two in the right direction. For example, they now rank the potential welfare impact of permitted control methods, with Larsen traps (a ground level cage trap using a decoy bird) and their variants coming at the worst end of the scale.
The use of decoy birds was one of the welfare concerns highlighted in our response to the original SNH consultation. Indeed, OneKind wants to see Larsen traps and crow cage traps removed from the GL as they offer such poor welfare. We have seen too many examples of magpies, crows and jackdaws kept captive to lure in other territorial birds, exposed to stress, hunger, thirst and severe weather conditions.
Over the years, we have at least seen some of our suggestions for improving decoy bird welfare creep into the licences. As long ago as 2008, we were saying:
“We […] ask for the insertion of much more comprehensive definitions of the terms “shelter” and “perch” […]. Cages have been seen with a piece of plastic less than the size of an A4 sheet of paper serving as shelter. Perches that are too narrow cause the bird’s hind claw to come round and dig into its foot, causing injury and pain. Perches should therefore be thick enough for the bird to use it without its foot curling round, and at least part of the perch must be under the shelter. While that may seem rather obvious, cages have been seen where this was not the case.”
A requirement for “a suitable perch that does not cause discomfort to the bird’s feet” appeared in the GL that year. In the new GL, the requirement for decoy birds to have protection from the wind and rain has been augmented by: “Shelter should be provided off the ground as birds are more likely to make use of it.” This reflects further comments and criticism over the years, and it is an improvement, if a small one.
OneKind opposes the killing of wild birds but as long as it is permitted, we want to see proper assessment of shooters’ competence and practice, so that birds are not wounded and left to die. (Shooting comes about half way down the SNH welfare scale.) We have also called for a ban on all lethal control during breeding seasons, to protect dependent chicks who are left to starve if their parents are killed.
A further key change to the system is that all individuals using traps under the GL will be required to register their details with SNH. At present, registration is by landholding and overseen by Police Scotland. SNH says the aim is to have “direct contact with those trapping under our general licences which will lead to clearer understanding of user responsibilities and aid communication in future.” Hopefully, this rather neutral statement signals future streamlining of enforcement, which has historically proven so difficult.
In recent years, the GL have been unavailable to anyone convicted of a wildlife crime unless that person had been dismissed with an admonition, had a spent conviction, or had been discharged by the court. Our complaint about this was that a person dismissed with an admonition is still a convicted person and should not be allowed access to an open licence for activities that are generally illegal. On examining the new licences, we can see that phrase about being “dismissed with an admonition” has been deleted. We don’t know if that was a consequence of OneKind lobbying, but we do know that we have raised this with SNH, year after year so … it’s possible.
There is still more to be done to protect our wild birds from largely unmonitored, unregulated killing. Last year, OneKind lodged a petition with the Scottish Parliament, calling for an independent review of the welfare issues surrounding the trapping and killing of all wildlife in Scotland. In addition, as members of the Revive coalition, OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland have published a report, Untold Suffering, which vividly illustrates the inhumane nature of animal and bird traps currently used in Scotland. We will keep up the pressure.
STOAT STOP PRESS
A further General Licence for the use of spring traps for stoats was issued on the evening of 31 March. This reflects long-awaited amendments to domestic legislation in the wake of the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards, which regulates traps used for fur-bearing animals. A total of five models of traps are permitted under the licence. Look out for a further blog soon on the history of this legislation and the implications for wild animal welfare.