Snare Laws in England and Wales

The use of snares in Britain is regulated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

 The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 has been the principal legislation governing snares and banned “self locking snares”, but allowed “free running snares”.  It demands snares are checked once a day, and in theory gives protection to some protected animals by prohibiting the setting of a snare “calculated to cause bodily harm to a Schedule 5 or 6 mammal,” such as badgers, pine martin, and otter. However, in practice this could only apply to a snare set close to a place such as an otter’s holt or badger sett, and badgers may roam for 2 kilometres.

Under the Act it is an offence for a person:

  1. to set a self-locking snare in such a way as to be calculated to cause bodily injury to any wild animal. (Section 11(1)(a).)
  2. to kill or take any wild animal using a self-locking snare. (Section 11(1)(b).)
  3. to set a snare (or other article) in such a way as to be calculated to cause bodily injury to any animal listed in Schedule 6 of the Act (e.g., a badger). (Section 11(2)(a).)
  4. to kill or take any animal listed in Schedule 6 of the Act (e.g., a badger) using a snare. (Section 11(2)(b).)
  5. who sets a snare to fail to inspect that snare (or have someone else inspect it) at least once every day. (Section 11(3)(b).)
  6. to set any type of snare unless they are an ‘authorised person’ under the Act (that is, the owner or occupier of the land on which the snare is set, any person authorised by the owner or occupier of the land, or a person authorised in writing by the Local Authority for the area. (Section 27(1).)
  7. to possess a snare for the purpose of committing any of the above offences. (Section 18(2).)

Deer Act 1991  Prohibits use of snares for capturing deer.

Under the Deer Act 1991 it is an offence to use snares to kill or take deer.

To sum up, the use of self-locking snares, the setting of any type of snare in places where they are likely to catch badgers, failure to inspect snares on a daily basis, and setting snares on land without permission, are all offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Animal Welfare Act 2006  This can be applied, for example, if a snare was set in a garden fence and risked capturing a domestic pet, or to wild animals, where by setting and capturing an animal it is deemed “under their control”. It could be applied to situations where an animal was killed or injured in a snare and there were some breach of the voluntary code produced by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation that the government for England is backing: Code of Best Practice on the use of Snares for Fox Control in England, and this amongst other things recommends not setting snares in fence lines or on known badger runs and also encourages the use of a snare with a breakaway section that theoretically would allow a larger badger to escape  The Welsh government has also produced a voluntary Code of Best Practice on the use of snares in Fox Control

In addition there is a Defra Code of Practice on the use of snares in fox and rabbit control. However this is not a statutory code and as such serves no useful purpose. If you want more information on visit our Defra’s Code of Practice page.

Snare Laws in Scotland

Wildlife and Natural Environment Scotland Act 2011 The main problem of legislation where snaring is concerned is that all a person has to do is deny having set the snare to avoid prosecution.  To try to get over this, the Scottish parliament makes a demand that a person setting a snare receives training, registers when he is going to be setting snares and places an identifying tag on the snare.  A record must also be kept of where the snares are set, when checked, and what animals are found in them.

Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011  This is less restrictive than the Scottish legislation but has some minor changes to the WLCA 1981

Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 Prohibits use of snares to catch deer

While the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 has been the principle legislation governing snaring in Scotland, the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act (“the 2004 Act”) introduced measures to enhance the protection afforded to wildlife, including measures to improve the regulation of snaring practice.

Those measures introduced in 2004 which specifically relate to the regulation of snaring practice in Scotland are:

  1. A new offence of setting in position or otherwise using any snare which is, on the basis of its design and/or the manner in which it is used, calculated to cause unnecessary suffering.
  2. A modified offence in section 11 (2)(a) of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, of setting in position any snare or trap which is likely (rather than calculated) to cause injury to animals listed in Schedule 6 of the 1981 Act.
  3. A change to the requirement to inspect at least once every day to ensure that no more than 24 hours elapses between any two sequential inspections
  4. A new requirement when carrying out an inspection to release or remove any animal caught in the snare whether it is alive or dead. Failure to remove an animal is an offence in its own right but the presence of a dead animal in any snare if it is clear that the animal has been there for more than 24 hours may now also constitute evidence of an offence under section 11(3) of the 1981 Act
  5. A new offence of possessing a self locking snare without reasonable excuse. Any person who wishes to possess a self locking snare (for example as exhibits or for educational purposes) can apply for a licence under section 16(3) of the 1981 Act.
  6. A new offence of selling or offering or exposing for sale any self locking snare.
  7. Two new offences of being in possession of a snare on any land and of setting a snare on any land where the permission of the owner or occupier of any land has not been obtained. These new provisions allow the owner or occupier to determine his or her own policy in relation to snares. Prior to these new provisions it had not been illegal to set snares on another person’s land in order to control foxes and other species.

However, no legislation or code can get over the indiscriminate nature and physical damage caused by snaring a Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs study: Determining the Extent of Use and Humaneness of Snares in England and Wales concluded in 2010.  It cost over £228,000 and involved field trials with gamekeepers and laboratory tests in the Central Science Laboratories on rabbits in snares.  It found high levels of non-target capture and that snares were causing life-threatening injuries and death to target and non-target animals. In the laboratory tests, many rabbits were shown to die a slow and protracted death in snares.

Laws Failing Wildlife

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 requires that snares be checked at least once every day. This is usually interpreted as at least every 24 hours. Daily checking is intended to prevent prolonged suffering of those animals which are caught in snares. However, there have been many occasions where it is clear that snares have not been checked daily – or even weekly.

Even the discovery of a long-dead corpse with a snare around its neck, leg or body does not prove beyond doubt that a snare has not been checked on a daily basis. The person who set the snare can claim that the animal was already dead when the snare was checked, and that it was then simply left where it was.

Wildlife legislation, including that relating to snares, is extremely difficult to enforce for a number of reasons.

Firstly, weaknesses and ambiguities in the legislation frequently hamper investigations by the police and other prosecuting authorities.

Secondly, the use of snares is difficult to monitor when many are used on private land, in isolated locations and away from public scrutiny.

Thirdly, enforcement powers available to the police are limited, compounded by the lack of police resources in many rural areas. Indeed, many police forces are coming under increasing pressure to divert resources away from wildlife crime to prioritise on offences that are notifiable.

Fourthly, some Police Wildlife Crime Officers are involved in hunting and shooting.

A Word of Warning… Treat Police Wildlife Officers with Caution

While a number of Police Wildlife Crime Officers (WCOs) are very good and professional when dealing with reports of wildlife crime, others are not. We have had complaints upheld against officers for serious failings – one even passing on our confidential emails direct to a shooting estate!

The problem is some police forces set up Country Watch schemes where officers become very close to the landowning / game-keeping industry in return for access to land. Other forces, Lancashire Constabulary being a prime example, seem to recruit wildlife officers only from those with shooting backgrounds. The conflict of interest is inevitable as has been seen in many cases involving the lack of prosecutions for illegal hunting with hounds and bird of prey offences.

These officers see their role as protecting shooting and hunting interests rather than addressing the worse cases of wildlife crime. Fair Game – The Law of Country Sports and the Protection of Wildlife by Charlie Parkes and John Thornley, two former Police Wildlife Liaison Officers, is an excellent example of this. Wildlife can only be grateful that the authors have now retired. Mark Wardle, a retired Nottinghamshire Police Wildlife Liaison Officer, was fined for using a cage trap baited with a live pigeon in order to catch and kill birds of prey.

A further example is where offences were reported involving Larsen Traps set on the Hoghton Tower estate in Lancashire. The evidence was passed to Lancashire Constabulary Police Wildlife Liaison Officer PC Duncan Thomas who immediately dismissed it. Later it was discovered that PC Thomas had participated in shoots on the Hoghton Tower estate, bred gundogs and regularly wrote for bloodsport magazines. After leaving the police he was employed by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

However, do report wildlife crime to the police – just be cautious and find out if the WCO has any shooting or hunting links.