By Marcus Papadopoulos

At a time of economic crisis there can be a tendency for governments to sideline or place on the periphery of the political agenda issues which matter deeply to the moral standing of society. For Christians of all denominations this should be something of concern as it potentially means that some of the fundamental teachings of the Bible are being ignored.

Napoleon Bonaparte once referred disparagingly to England as “a nation of shopkeepers”. L’Empereur would have been on safer ground, however, to have said that we are “a nation of animal lovers”.

The British people, both religiously and secularly oriented, have a long and proud tradition of promoting the well-being of animals, and have helped secure pieces of legislation which have done much to improve animal welfare in this country, such as the outlawing of bearbaiting in the 19th-century and hunting with dogs in the 21st century.

Christians are under an obligation to preserve the Kingdom of God, which includes ensuring that all of the Lord’s living creations are cared for and protected from cruelty. As it says in Genesis 1:24, 25: “Then God commanded, ‘Let the earth produce all kinds of animal life; domestic and wild, large and small, and it was done.’ So God made them all, and He was pleased with what He saw.” The duty to animals is further stated in Proverbs 12:10: “A good man takes care of his animals, but wicked men are cruel to theirs.”

The practice of snaring is without question one of the cruellest and largest forms of animal abuse practised in the United Kingdom. Yet it is something that most of the public know comparatively little about and one that the present Government (like its predecessors) considers perfectly acceptable.

Snaring involves the use of thin loops of wires that are designed to pull tight on the body of an animal in order to trap it. Theoretically speaking, a gamekeeper is then obliged to release the ensnared animal if it is a protected species or else humanely dispatch it. This practice is officially used to control the growth of animals that are considered “pests” and to maintain a balanced amount of species in the countryside-“wildlife management” as it is called by snaring advocates.

However, these are disingenuous arguments. Given that most snares are employed on shooting estates, the League Against Cruel Sports, one of the country’s main animal welfare organisations, has shown that snaring is actually carried out to protect “valuable” game birds which are reared deliberately for the purposes of shooting (approximately 55 million birds are shot annually in Britain).

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, snaring is only illegal if it involves the use of firstly, self-locking snares and secondly, devices to trap protected mammals, such as badgers and otters. In addition to this legislation, there is a code of best practice by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which advises on how snares should be set and monitored (although this is simply guidance and is not binding).

Through numerous investigations carried out by the League-the most recent entitled “War On Wildlife” — it has been shown that the law governing snaring is failing abysmally on two counts: firstly, legal snares are causing animals do endure long and painful deaths (incidentally, it was found that legal snares often become self-locking ones-which are illegal-when the trapped animal thrashes about and consequently the wire becomes twisted around the body), and secondly, illegal snares are being used extensively. It should also be noted that 78 per cent of estates are ignoring DEFRA’s code of best practice.

On prestigious estates across the country such as Harewood House – home to the Queen’s cousin the Earl of Harewood – and Worsop Abbey it was found that wildlife, including protected species, is being massacred and in a manner which blatantly contravenes the existing guidelines on snaring. Horrific images of foxes hanging in mid-air and badgers strangled to death were just the tip of the iceberg stemming from the League’s findings.

The slaughtering of animals is occurring not as a result of “wildlife management” as is officially stated but in actual fact to safeguard the financial gain which is generated from commercial shooting, estimated to be to the tune of £1.6 billion annually.

Macabre figures from the shooting industry itself reveal that over 12,000 animals are killed in snares every day in Britain to protect shooting interests. The sickening logic behind this horror can be explained as follows: killing animals in order to kill animals; a perverse and repugnant practice for any country to indulge in, in particular one which prides itself on having high moral standards.

The contention by numerous animal welfare organisations that snared animals do suffer long and agonising deaths is irrefutable. Evidence has been accumulated by the League which confirms that animals, in a desperate bid to escape from a snare, can be disembowelled by the wire, can wrench bones out of their own sockets and can even bite through their own limbs. An animal can be trapped for days on end; in pain and alone, dying a heinous death. This distressing knowledge not only contravenes the existing law on snaring but is also immoral in every sense of the word.

Snares, however, do not just form a potent threat to wild animals; they also constitute a danger to domestic animals. Increasing numbers of members of the public are now coming forward with horrific accounts of what has happened to their cats and dogs. There is an abundant amount of cases where cats have gone missing only to be found dead in snares-days, weeks and, in some cases, months later. Dog owners have reported finding their beloved companions trapped in snares while out on walks in fields or forests, with many of these having incurred appalling injuries. In one such incident, a dog which had been trapped for only 15 minutes in a snare had had the skin on one of his legs entirely torn off, which resulted in it having to be amputated.

The hidden danger of snares in areas where members of the public visit is not only a menace to animals but also to people themselves. It is perfectly conceivable that a serious injury could be sustained by someone stepping on a snare. This is all the more troubling as it could happen to a young child.

It is important for the British government to follow the example set by 23 out of the 27 members of the European Union and ban snaring. It is a barbaric and obsolescent practice which should have no place in a modern and civilised society. Animals are living creatures which feel pain and suffering as much as humans do. As the late Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie said: “We need to maintain the value, the preciousness of the human by affirming the preciousness of the non-human also-of all that is. For our concept of God forbids the idea of a cheap creation, of a throwaway universe in which everything is expendable save human existence. The whole universe is a work of love. The value, the worth of natural things is not found in Man’s view of himself but in the goodness of God who made all things precious in his sight.”

Financial crisis or no financial crisis, all Christian groups in this country have a duty to stress to the Government the argument that any form of killing must have no place in British society. Christians should make a stand against what is the indiscriminate, callous and unwarranted killing of God’s creations every day. Jesus taught in the Bible to act on behalf of the vulnerable in society, in particular those who are unable to do so on their own accord. This applies to animals who have no voice of their own, and are thus utterly defenceless. Christians would do well to remind themselves of Proverbs 31:8: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all who are helpless.”

Marcus Papadopoulos is press officer for the League Against Cruel Sports.