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Options for rural land managers and farmers shrink further as increasing legislation on predator control looms

The final evidence session for the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill took place on Wednesday 8 November, 2023. Stakeholder groups in attendance discussed the Scottish Governments proposal to ban the use of snares in Scotland.

The Scottish Countryside Alliance have worked tirelessly in an attempt to retain this method of control and together with our partner organisations, supported the use of Humane Cable Restraints (HCRs) under a licensing scheme. Penny Middleton from the NFUS explained why they are an important method for farmers to utilise.  

“We speak to farmers that lose lambs on a regular basis through foxes and they know that once a fox finds the lambs, they come night after night and snares sometimes in that situation are the only option available”.

Snaring is a very efficient method of predator control and can be utilised where shooting is not possible or appropriate. Ross MacLeod from the GWCT estimated that around 40% of foxes are managed by snaring and 60% by shooting. He further stated that:

“On the issue about whether shooting makes up the shortfall if snaring is removed, 40% is a lot to make up, particularly when shooting is not always possible.

“In circumstances where deep cover is present, its not always possible to shoot where you can’t see. It’s also unsafe under these circumstances, particularly when you have people moving around the landscape”.

Whilst the SSPCA agreed that farmers need to be able to protect their livestock from fox predation, they stressed that it should be done in a humane manner. Unfortunately, neither the SSPCA nor OneKind could elaborate on what alternative humane methods should be used. Ross Ewing from Scottish Land & Estates spoke about the current issues surrounding NatureScot granting licences for hunting with more than two dogs, commenting that the toolkit for land managers has effectively been cut by one third.

“The feedback we have had from members is not particularly rosy. We absolutely need to be able to manage predation, and these HCR devices offer us an opportunity to do that”.

In fact, Gamekeeper Conor Kelly confirmed during this meeting that a licence recently submitted in Perthshire has already been rejected by NatureScot.

Just one day after the evidence session took place for this Bill, the Scottish Government showed utter contempt for the rural communities of Scotland by announcing that they are upholding the proposed ban on the use of all snares. A decision that looked, by all accounts, pre-determined, regardless of the evidence given by our partner organisations. This proposed ban will not serve as a deterrent to those members of the public intent on breaking the law and setting illegal snares for poaching and other criminal activities. It will effectively tie the hands of land managers and farmers who set licenced, legal snares and abide by the guidelines and extensive training set out by NatureScot.

We fully expected this announcement from Minister Gillian Martin to ban HCRs following on from the Welsh Governments ban, which came into force on the 17 October. Time will tell what impact this ban will have on the protection of ground nesting birds such as the curlew and lapwing. Not forgetting our farmers and land managers who are currently working under licencing schemes that will no doubt limit their operations and cause undue stress on a rural demographic currently under immense pressure.  A pressure owing not only in terms of time management but also financially and in terms of the rising mental health issues of rural workers. You only need to speak to the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust or RSABI to get a picture of how mental health is impacting our rural communities contending with a constant attack on traditional rural practices.

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