Gunsmoke and Mirrors, our exposé on the shooting industry has certainly stirred up emotions on both sides of the debate. Certainly we have recieved a huge number of messages of support and many on-line actions have been taken by supporters, such as writing to their MP and urging them to sign the EDM supporting our campaign.
I have also recieved quite a bit of personal abuse from shooters on twitter! Only to be expected. But in amongst the "trolling" some serious questions have been raised. Twitter is great for sharing, but it is not an environment suited to calm deliberation.
The current practice of using snares for predator control is one key issue. Leaving aside for a moment the strong moral arguments against snaring, the bizarre juxtaposition of releasing tens of millions of non indigenous birds into our woodlands each year, then killing our indigenous wildlife who eat a small proportion of them, let's look at some facts about snaring.
It is worth reading the DEFRA commissioned report "Determining the extent of use and humaneness of snares in England and Wales”. It took them long enough to publish it! It followed work in 2005 of the DEFRA sponsored Independent Working Group on Snares (IWGS). They developed a Code of Practice (CoP) of which more later. They also recommended that research should be undertaken on the extent of the use of snares in the UK, the humaneness and selectivity of snares. So, seven years to get it done.
We have been waiting for it for some time, as have the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly. Is it any good? To be honest it is a bit of a curate's egg - good in parts. The research findings are very interesting, but the recommendations don't seem to follow the findings and do not go far enough.
The research looked at snares aimed at catching rabbits and foxes. I will focus on foxes. The use of snares for foxes was worryingly wide ranging. They are set equally frequently by farmers and game keepers, the former can set up to 300 snares, the latter up to 700! Using statistical extrapolation, the study estimates that between 62,800 and 188,300 fox snares were in use in England and between 17,200 and 51,600 in Wales.
So, there are a lot of snares about, and this is probably an underestimate. Are they indiscriminate in what they catch? To quote the DEFRA study "60% of operators had caught non-targets in fox snares at some time. Badgers were the non target species most commonly mentioned" – simply highlighting what The League has argued for many years, that it is impossible to use a snare without catching non-targets and causing welfare problems.
Back to the Code of Practice which is aimed at reducing the humane problems associated with their use and reduce non-target species being snared, for example it sets out the type of snare that can be used and where best to place it. This is on top of the statutory requirement that snares are inspected every 24 hours. Were gamekeepers and farmers aware of it? 95% of gamekeepers and 64% of farmers were aware of the CoP. So most know what to do. Did they do it? Overwhelmingly, the answer is no. The following quotes from the study are telling. "No fox snare operator visited was fully compliant with the Code of Practice…operators were unable to buy 'off-the-shelf', any snares that were fully compliant with Code of Practice recommendations on design". "A notable deviation from recommended operating practices was failure to avoid sites where the snares could become entangled with nearby objects... during field visits…two badgers that were caught were entangled with objects and one was severely injured as a result of the entanglement."
So despite the Code of Practice the report concludes, "most snares in use were not Code of Practice compliant and snares were frequently set at sites where entanglement leading to poor welfare was a risk". Just to be explicit, this means snares without stops which get progressively tighter as the poor animal tries to escape, more than likely becoming more and more entangled with other obstructions.
Reading the report dispassionately, I was surprised when I came to the main conclusions, i.e. sticking with a voluntary code of practice on the use of snares. The report shows that snares are massively indiscriminate in the animals they catch, including protected species. It is impossible to buy a compliant snare, and even though there is a code of practice that snare users are mostly aware of, they rarely comply with it! The use of snares without regard to animal welfare is so culturally engrained within gamekeeping and farming practice that there is no chance of changing practice by voluntary codes and training.
There is an overwhelming case on animal welfare grounds to end the use of snares by law. Other European countries have come to this conclusion long ago. In our film, Gunsmoke and Mirrors, we show upsetting scenes of the effects of snares. Most people across the UK are shocked by this hidden secret, but I am frustrated by the lack of Government action. Whilst the Northern Ireland Assembly is currently drafting new regulations on snares which will go to public consultation at the end of the year, the Petition Committee in Scotland continues to challenge the welfare grounds of regulations, yet Parliament seems practically inactive in comparison on snares. I hope the Government will take decisive action in line with overwhelming public opinion ending this hidden suffering in our countryside once and for all.