A WELSH country pheasant shoot has been slammed by animal rights groups for using hundreds of snares to kill off wildlife.
Campaigners say their investigations at the exclusive shooting estate have revealed the “worst use of snares we have ever seen”.
They claim there were “in excess of 600 snares” on the land near Usk – a claim vehemently denied by the gamekeeper.
The local MP has described photographs taken by investigators as “very disturbing” and the RSPCA is “gravely concerned”.
It hopes the footage, collected by the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) and the National Anti-Snaring Campaign (NASC), will help speed up a ban on snares.
A gamekeeping expert said legislation on snaring was “woolly” but some of the activity on the estate appeared not to be “good practice”.
The RSPCA and the British Association of Shooting & Conservation agree snaring on the land seems contrary to BASC guidelines which are accepted as the standard for gamekeeping.
However, Llangibby Castle gamekeeper Roy Jones said: “I am doing nothing that is illegal. I am not doing anything that I shouldn’t be doing.
“I am not saying that wiring (snaring) is not cruel. It is. But there is a lot of things in life that are cruel.”
The LACS and NASC claimed the density of snares on the Llangibby Castle estate at the village of Llangybi could cause wildlife unnecessary suffering.
They stated foxes, deer and protected animals such as badgers could all be trapped by the snares.
Their investigators visited the land on six occasions over eight months – throughout the pheasant shooting season which ended last weekend.
The most recent visit took place with a Wales on Sunday reporter.
There were a number of snares next to a public footpath. Each contained a wire loop attached to a wooden pole around a metre long.
In one area about the size of two tennis courts, there were around 20 snares.
Snares are designed to keep wildlife away from the pheasants, which shooters can pay around £25 a time to kill.
Campaigners have produced a dossier – including a video and report – on the estate. It forms their ENTIRE submission to a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) consultation on snaring.
Their video shows visits to the estate on October 31 and November 27 last year.
They filmed ‘channelling’ – brush and fencing arranged to coral an animal in a certain direction – leading to a series of snares.
Some were near badger setts, which appeared derelict. There was no sign of the animals.
The LACS states its findings were “so bad” it left them out of its recent Killing for Sport report on snaring.
“We felt it was a special case,” said a LACS spokesman. “It was quite simply the worst case of snaring we have come across in England and Wales.
“During the Killing for Sport investigation we visited dozens of estates across the UK but saw nothing on this scale.
“We estimate there to be between 600-700 snares on this land.
“This area has virtually no wildlife on it at all and you have to ask, ‘Why?'”
Monmouth MP Huw Edwards was so concerned by the dossier he submitted a number of written Parliamentary questions and asked the police to investigate.
In his letter to police he said he was particularly concerned about “four derelict badger setts on the estate which might indicate that badgers have been killed in snares.”
Activists believed the snares might be illegal because they were attached to moveable wooden poles and could be dragged around by an injured animal.
However, the RSPCA viewed the video and said that, while they were distressed by its contents, they could not see any evidence of law-breaking.
A spokeswoman said: “Given that the RSPCA is opposed to the use of all snares, the sheer number of these cruel contraptions filmed on the Llangybi (Llangibby) Estate is of grave concern to us.
“But although distressing, the footage provides no evidence of illegal, that is self-locking snares, being used.
“Likewise, while those that were attached to loose poles or logs are contrary to BASC recommended practice, no offence has been committed under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which regulates the current use of snares.
“The RSPCA believes it is time the use of all snares was prohibited in the UK, which is one of a minority of European countries which still permits their use.
“We hope, that in light of practical evidence such as this footage from Llangybi Estate, Defra will take note of the serious risk to wildlife posed by snares and act to outlaw all snares.”
A Gwent Police spokeswoman confirmed that Usk officers had received a complaint about snares on the estate on November 28.
“Police have investigated and visited the estate on several occasions together with the wildlife crime officer and the snares were found to be legal,” she added.
Stewart Scull, who has more than 20 years’ experience as a gamekeeper, said the law on snaring was open to interpretation.
Now as the head of gamekeeping at BASC, which has around 7,000 members across Wales, he drew up its code of practice.
“The law requires that snares must not be self-locking,” he stated. “There is no legal definition of self-locking, but basically what a snare should do is ‘relax’ when a fox stops pulling. A self-locking snare gets tighter and tighter as the fox pulls.”
Mr Scull said he had not heard of the Llangibby Castle shoot and he had not had the opportunity to view footage taken at the land.
He stated there was “nothing” illegal about what was being done on the land but it did raise questions about good practice.
He said the poles or drags to which the snares were attached were not illegal but went against the BASC’s voluntary code.
“We firmly believe snares should be firmly anchored,” he explained. “We don’t consider a drag good practice.”
With regards to the use of snares near badger setts he said the law banned them if they were shown to be “calculated” to catch a protected animal.”
‘It’s cruel … but it’s not illegal’ says gamekeeper
LLANGIBBY Castle gamekeeper Roy Jones says his management of the land is based on almost 30 years’ experience.
Mr Jones accepted that some people did not like snaring but stressed nothing he was doing broke the law.
“There are certain things I have modified over 28 years doing the job to improve it,” he said. “I am not saying that wiring (snaring) is not cruel. It is. But there is a lot of things in life that are cruel.
“I have been doing it for 18 years (at Llangibby Castle). I have never had any trouble.”
He dismissed LACS’ claims about the number of snares on the land. “There are no more than 160,” he said. “That’s on a 3,500 acre estate.”
He added: “A lot of people don’t like it (snaring). Everybody is entitled to their point of view. I personally am anti-hunting and anti-stag hunting.”
Mr Jones, who said he worked for a private syndicate that owned the shoot, said wildlife such as hawks and a variety of small birds were thriving there because of good “control of ground vermin”.
He said that drags were not illegal and said he believed they were less cruel, if checked every day, than static snares.
“Fixed wires are more cruel in my opinion than drags,” he explained. “I am also willing as I told these people who came roaming around that I would sit down and talk and listen to any suggestions. I’ve got wires that run 15 yards from footpaths and if anybody had seen anything in this village I would have been in trouble a long, long time ago.
“There’s footpaths everywhere and a lot of walkers come through. I get on very well with a lot of them.”
Mr Jones, who said he was aware of the BASC voluntary code but was not a member of the organisation, added: “I am doing nothing that is illegal. I am not doing anything that I shouldn’t be.”
Llangibby Castle shoot is very exclusive says League Against Cruel Sports investigator
An experienced League Against Cruel Sports investigator said he believed the Llangibby Castle shoot had all the hallmarks of an ‘exclusive’ estate.
“I have never seen so little information about an estate in 12 years of investigations,” he stated. “I’ve looked at estates used by minor royals which do not compare with this. I would imagine this is a very exclusive shoot.”
Many shoots are run by syndicates and groups who are entitled to organise them on private land with the permission of the owner.