Fears for wildlife over cruel snares on farmland

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A MAJOR new report into the use of snares to catch foxes and rabbits has found many farmers have never heard of Government guidelines outlining how they should be used, while few manufacturers are building the traps to required standards.

The long-awaited study commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has concluded up to 240,000 fox snares are being used across England and Wales – but that around a third of farmers who deploy them have never even heard of the Government’s Code of Practice governing their humane use.

The code was drawn up in 2005 after a wave of concern about the use of snares to catch foxes and rabbits, with animal rights groups insistent they frequently leave animals to suffer long and painful deaths.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) said yesterday it accepted that better education of farmers may be necessary, but that the traps remain “an effective means of pest control” when used humanely.

The study found there was no discernible benefit to be found from checking snares more frequently than every 24 hours – the current legislated interval – but that animals would suffer less if snares were better designed by manufacturers and deployed correctly by farmers.

The report states: “No fox snare operator visited was fully compliant with the Code of Practice. At the time of the study, operators were unable to buy ‘off-the-shelf’ any snares that were fully compliant with Code recommendations on design.”

Poor design of snares meant they frequently broke, leaving animals to escape with serious injuries, the report said.

Its authors also recommended better design to prevent other animals such as badgers and hares becoming caught in the snares. Some 60 per cent of those surveyed said they had caught the wrong type of animal in their snares at some point.

The report also strongly recommended better education and training for farmers in how to deploy snares, highlighting repeated problems with them being used in the wrong places and leading to further unnecessary suffering.

While only 64 per cent of farmers had heard of the Code of Practice – and just three per cent had received formal training on it – those figures rose to 95 per cent and 38 per cent respectively where gamekeepers were concerned.

The NFU said it would consider the report carefully before formally responding to Defra.

The union’s rural surveyor Louise Staples said: “The NFU supports the humane use of snares, which are an effective means of pest control.

“We will work closely with the British Association for Shooting Conservation and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust to improve the uptake of the Code of Practice and encourage training in the use of snares within the farming sector where necessary.”

But animal rights groups have insisted the study is evidence that snaring should be banned outright.

Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “There is a huge amount of information in the report, some of which suggest that snares cannot be used effectively and humanely as a method of predator control.

“This study is long overdue and confirms our fears that snaring cannot be carried out without a high risk of suffering and cruelty to the captured animal.”

Defra said it will be considering responses from all interested parties before making any decision on what next steps to take.