By Marcus Papadopoulos

Taking a stroll in the countryside with your partner, children and dogs is as relaxing as sitting down on a Saturday night with a glass of wine watching the latest movie blockbuster.

The British countryside is known for all its glory across the world with tourists visiting the UK every year to experience the peace and beauty of our parks, forests and heaths.

That all said however, a hidden danger lurks amongst the trees, shrubs and bushes in the countryside. And one that may make you think twice before letting your children and dogs run ahead of you.

Thin loops of lethal wire lie in wait for not only their intended targets-wild animals-but also for domestic animals and people alike.

Snaring is officially carried out in England and Wales as a form of pest control and is governed by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Through its numerous investigations the League Against Cruel Sports, one of the longest established animal welfare organisations in the country, constantly highlights the point that snaring is carried out by gamekeepers up and down the country to protect birds which are reared for shooting, such as pheasants and grouse, from natural predators, like foxes. In simple words: killing animals in order to kill animals so as to make money-which is believed to stand in the region of £1.6 billion annually.

Thousands of badgers, rabbits, foxes and other wild animals die long and painful deaths every day in snares. But it’s not just wild animals that are falling victim to snaring. Increasing numbers of dogs and cats are also being snared-with many either dying agonising deaths or suffering terrible injuries. The League has learnt of countless cases of cats having not come back home, only to have been found strangled to death later on and of dogs having been snared while out on walks.

‘Alfie’ the cat returned home one morning to his owners Denis and Vivien Bradley, who reside in the Norfolk countryside, with his front left leg hanging on by only “a bit of skin” and with part of his shoulder bone “clearly visible”. ‘Alfie’s’ vet said that the injury was compatible with a snare. ‘Alfie’ is now adjusting to life with three legs.

Some pets, however, have paid the ultimate price. ‘Willow’, a cat from the Isle of Wight, staggered back to his home with a snare wrapped around his back legs which had cut deep into his stomach. His body was covered in maggots. ‘Willow’ had been trapped in a snare for six days – alone and in pain. Despite being taken to the vet for emergency surgery, where his leg was amputated, ‘Willow’ died two days later. His owners, Bob and Hilda Namaste, said: “He was part of the family…No animal should go through what ‘Willow’ went through; domestic cat or wild animal…It really is heart breaking.”

‘Oscar’ the cat was discovered by his owner, Sam Hamilton from Clackmannan, with a snare around his neck and was immediately rushed to his vet. Although the snare was successfully removed, ‘Oscar’s’ health rapidly deteriorated over the following six months as a result of the ordeal he experienced, and he eventually died of a heart related problem. His owner said: “Before he was caught in that snare, ‘Oscar’ had been such a happy and healthy cat. But sadly after his ordeal, he went through hell before he died.”

In another fatal incident involving a pet cat, ‘Marmalade’ was found by his owners, Chris and Ann Dunham, hanging from his neck in a snare which had been attached to barbed wire. Mr and Mrs Dunham, from North Norfolk, are naturally “devastated” by the loss of their beloved companion.

Dogs have also fallen victim to snares. One such case involved ‘Harvey’ from Perthshire who ran into a wooded area while out on a walk and failed to return to his owner. After a frantic search, ‘Harvey’ was eventually found dead by his owner a few hours later. “I came across my dog lying with a snare embedded into his neck and his tongue out the side of his mouth, which he had bitten off”, his owner John Buchan said.

Concern now exists over how a child could injure himself or herself in a snare while out walking or playing in the countryside. Katy Roberts, a campaigner at the League, says: “What is supposed to be a happy day out could become unpleasant if a child was to step on a snare. Our countryside is literally littered with these traps, and it might not be long until an accident involving one of these and a child arises, as it already has with some adults.”

Snares are barbaric and they don’t discriminate. Research conducted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has shown that “target species” caught in snares range from as low as 23 per cent to no higher than 60 per cent.

As well as an increasing amount of pets falling victim to snaring, DEFRA figures also reveal that other species which are regularly caught in snares include those protected under animal welfare law, such as otters and badgers. The League is currently pressing the Government to end the manufacture, sale and use of snares, arguing that the cruelty they inflict on all species is by no means acceptable or compatible with standards set by British or European Union animal welfare legislation.

It is because of that that 23 out of 27 member states across the EU have banned the use of snares. The UK government must now follow suit.

Next time you and your family venture out to the countryside, be on guard for the hidden dangers that lie in wait. Snares do not differentiate between a fox and dog or a rabbit and child.

The countryside must me made safe so that families can be allowed to enjoy its solitude and splendour without the fear of a completely unnecessary accident occurring.