A good spot
As the legislation surrounding snaring gets tighter and tighter in Scotland, I speak to more and more people who are thinking of just packing it in. Farmers and small-time syndicate keepers just can’t face the red tape, and although they dread the consequences that a drop in efficient fox control could bring about, a culture of fear has descended around the practice. People who do it on a part time basis are genuinely unsettled by the idea that they could be prosecuted for even the slightest accidental deviation from the letter of the law, and I must admit that I have considered packing the whole thing in. I have several snares running as I write this, and I must admit that although I know that they are not only set according to the requirements of the new W&NE act but they also conform to even more stringent “best practice” guidelines, I do have nagging concerns when I lie in bed at night time.
As soon as you leave a snare set, it is out of your control. True, you can set it to absolutely minimise the risk of something illegal happening, but there is no way that you can 100% guarantee that your snare will not cross the line. Anti-snaring campaigners produce questionable stastics which suggest that only a small number of animals caught in snares are actually foxes. While this is largely emotive drivel, I can honestly say that I have caught dozens of foxes and have never caught anything else. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for me to catch anything else. By its nature, wildlife is wild and unpredictable. Extraordinary things happen, but my job as the snare’s “operator” is to do everything I can to make extraordinary things as unlikely as I can. Unfortunately, the nature of the law does not reflect this unpredictability. When it comes to allegations of wildlife crime, there are no warnings, cautions or second chances.
I saw a reality television programme in which a man who was so drunk that he could hardly stand spat at a policeman and told him to F*** off. The policeman said “you do that again and I’ll have to charge you”. If one of my snares is implicated in an illegal act, no matter how accidental or circumstantial, my head will roll then and there. I’m trying not to catch badgers in my snares because I don’t want to catch badgers, but if by some chance I do, my life as an amateur gamekeeper is over. Like anyone who sets a snare, I have a great deal to lose if something goes wrong. The sky will fall on my head – keepers have lost their jobs, their guns, their dogs and their entire livelihoods through an association with illegal snaring, and when the law changes and becomes more complicated every six months, the risk of crossing the line somewhere (even accidentally) becomes ever more feasible.
It sounds like I’m whining and moaning about the injustice of society. I don’t mean that at all, because with the awful responsibility of setting snares also comes a lifestyle that involves working in the countryside and improving the hills of home to the advantage of a species that I love. I’m not setting snares out of a sadistic desire to cut animals to pieces on lengths of sharpened cheese wire – if I was then I would thoroughly deserve it if society threw the book at me. I’m setting snares because they genuinely provide the only viable method of fox control available to me, and I refuse to be cowed by legislation which is trying to make it such a nuisance that it’s not worth my while. As an aside, I am not convinced that snaring is innately cruel and inhumane – in my experience it is a rather straighforward, cut and dry practice. It can be made cruel by neglect and inattention, but if you check your snares (at the very least) once a day, it’s little more than a dull and inoffensive chore.
All I will say is that when a fox was found hanging by its neck in the outskirts of Dumfries this year, it was revealed that it had been caught in an illegal snare. Even the publicity material put about by anti-snaring enthusiasts reveals that most harm is done by snares which were already illegal. Rather than crack down on the few stupid idiots who use illegal snares, the law decides that it’s easier and simpler to ban the practice altogether. It is apparently important to be seen to be punishing somebody, even though it is the wrong somebody.
I can guarantee that in five or ten years time when snares are finally banned altogether in Scotland and people like me stop using them, there will still be cats, badgers, deer and dogs being caught in locking snares, because that problem obviously has nothing to do with responsible people who follow the law.