A legal larsen, complete with food, fresh water, a perch, a unique identification number, a steel rain shelter and adequate space. A shelter from the prevailing wind was taken off to allow the photograph to be taken.
The past ten years have seen new laws piled upon the countryside to such an extent that it seems like we are totally bound in red tape. The sheer volume of “do’s” and “don’ts” turns even the simplest task into legal minefield, and a gamekeeper needs to be as good a lawyer as pest controller. The governments of Scotland and England have fallen into the practice of “convoy legislation”, an expression derived from the fact that Second World War merchant navy convoys were always limited to the speed of the slowest ship. Convoy legislation caters for the slowest witted person, treating everyone at a base level of ignorance.
Larsen trap legislation in Scotland is a prime example of convoy legislation, putting into law a series of pointers which should be total common sense. Why it should be a legal requirement to give your call bird food and water is a mystery. It is not only a moral requirement, but a practical one. A dead crow will not attract any others, so why would you operate a trap unless you were prepared to keep your call bird alive and well?
By law, call birds need to be provided with perches so that they can roost. Giving a bird a perch will allow it to bob around inside the cage, making it far more conspicuous and attractive to others, so why wouldn’t you give your bird a perch? It’s not difficult.
Providing shelter from the wind and rain is a legal requirement. After a downpour, crows will want to fly around to dry themselves off, increasing their chances of seeing your call bird. They will not spot your bird if it is cold and wet, hunched miserably on its perch, so why shouldn’t it be kept dry? Even a single broad plank of wood is enough to give your bird some shelter.
Operating a larsen trap humanely and effectively does not require legal guidelines; it requires a little common sense. The fact that laws have been brought in means that some people lack even the most basic common sense. It is not hard to imagine that a walker finding a dead call bird in a cage trap will be relatively unimpressed by his discovery. His response will be to slam larsen traps as cruel and barbaric instruments which need to be banned. Hyperbolic organisations (I would give a prime example, but that would infer that they have some credibility) spring up, demanding the abolition of all larsen traps, and they are reasonably fuelled by images and videos of suffering related to live catch bird traps.
It would be a major mistake to ban larsen traps. I have been running three on the Chayne for the past fortnight and have cleared up a large number of territorial crows which would otherwise have been searching through the undergrowth for the eggs of any number of ground nesting birds. Many of the bird species on the farm are nationally and internationally endangered, so pest control in this case is totally above moral reproach. The fact that I have had to register my traps with the police was a minor inconvenience, but the theory behind this compulsary requirement is actually quite sound.
Larsen traps do not need to be banned, but some of their operators do. There is nothing inherently cruel about a live catch trap, and the only humane issues relate to how well the bird is being looked after. I believe that unless you take good care of your call bird, you might as well not bother trying to trap, because wild crows will not be interested in a call bird that is hungry, thirsty and cold. In principal, if every badly treated call bird could be traced back to a single trap operator, as is the intention of the new scheme, that operator could be banned from keeping larsen traps.
The new scheme will only work if everyone registers their traps and applies a little commonsense. Sadly, there are some rotten eggs in the world of gamekeeping and land management, and if it can help by weeding them out, it will strengthen the reputation of these important traps.