Rare species the victim of anti-fox campaign

A huge increase in the number of snares used to kill foxes on grouse moors is sabotaging a £5 million EU project to save the capercaillie, one of Scotland’s most endangered species. The EU has written to the Scottish Executive urging the reduction “whenever possible” of threat to the bird.

Dr Robert Moss, fellow emeritus of the Centre foe Ecology and Hydrology, blames snares for the abandonment by capercaillies of three breeding sites in the Cairngorms.

“Setting snares through a forest has the inevitable consequence that non-target species, such as wildcats, hares, deer, badgers and capercaillie, are illegally killed,” he told BBC Wildlife.

UK capercaillies number less than 1,000 individuals and, at recent rates, are expected to disappear within 20 years. Wildcats are also rare – a 1995 study put the numbers at 3,500.

The EU letter to the Scottish Executive cited a recent report on moors that got much bigger grouse bags after “energetic keepers” follwoed Game Conservancy Trust advice and use more than 1,000 snares. Five years previously, in the same are, five snares were used.

The law says snares must be checked every 24 hours and be designed to hold an animal not kill it. But Dr Moss and inspectors at the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it is impossible to police and animals are frequently killed. Earlier this year, 142MPs backed a motion uring the Government to outlaw snares.

The LIFE grant was awarded to a group that includes Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB. Kenny Kortland, group project officer, said: “We’re having a lot of success changing practices in key capercaillie areas, but the bird has a huge range and we haven’t reached everyone.”

A Game Conservancy Trust spokeswoman said snares are the most effective way of controlling foxes but that they must be used within guidelines. This means no snaring within capercaillie habitat or other areas with vulnerable and protected species.