On 15th June, the Scottish Parliament had a debate on stink pits. The debate was called because of a motion lodged by Christine Grahame MSP (SNP), which called on the Scottish Government to consider banning stink pits.

What are stink pits? Colin Smyth MSP (Lab) described them during the debate as “stomach churning”, so be warned before reading on!

They are piles of dead animals, either dumped on the ground or sometimes set in plastic containers. The types of animal used varies depending on what gamekeepers have to hand, but pheasants, salmon, pink footed geese, sheep, deer, pigeons, crows, cats, otters, hares, foxes and many other species have been found in them.

The stink pits are surrounded with piles of brash and branches, so that any animal attracted by the smell will have to approach the stink pit using a gap. The gaps are set with snares, so that any would-be scavengers instead face a cruel fate.

Particularly during the summer, the smell is vile. League investigators say that stink pits at this time of year are “heaving with maggots”.

It’s not difficult to understand why the League and other animal welfare organisations want stink pits banned. They are a public health hazard, and the blowfly from the maggots are a risk to any sheep in the vicinity.

Snares are indiscriminate and cruel and stink pits exacerbate this. They may be intended to target foxes but protected species such as badgers, otters and pine martens are also attracted by the smell – as are domestic cats and dogs.

During the debate, several MSPs spoke very convincingly about the need to ban stink pits. Alison Johnstone (Green), said:

I urge the cabinet secretary to take the necessary steps to introduce—on ethical, animal welfare and public health grounds—an outright ban in Scotland on the truly barbaric use of stink pits

 Ruth Maguire (SNP) also called for a ban.

It is shocking that there is currently no legislation or regulation covering stink pit use in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK, but even if there was, I am not sure that any legislation or regulation could sanitise or condone the use of stink pits. It is my opinion that they should be banned.

Colin Smyth also called for a ban, but made it clear that what we really need is a ban on snaring:

Although I would welcome a ban on stink pits, what we really need is a ban on snaring itself. There is no point treating the symptoms when we could get rid of the disease itself. I set out that view in my recent member's business debate—a view that is shared by three quarters of the Scottish public.

The Government’s response? Sadly, Roseanna Cunninghame, the Cabinet Secretary summing up the debate, defended the use of stink pits:

People are asking why the pits are needed, but I suppose that people do—even given their comments—accept and understand that stink pits are used as a way of maximising the effectiveness of snaring as a means of fox control. They are used to draw foxes into fewer, more easily checked sites; thus, they have the benefit of concentrating snaring effort and reducing the number of snares that are set in the wider countryside.”

However, she also stated that two different groups would be consulted on their view of stink pits – the Scottish technical assessment group, which is consulted on snare regulation, and a new group being set up to consider grouse moor management.

League Scotland will submit all the evidence we have to the relevant groups, as stink pits are just plain vile and have no place in the Scottish countryside. However, more than anything, stink pits are a symptom of snare use, and banning snares would also stop stink pit use.