Police launch enquiry into wildlife persecution as MSPs vote on snares.

A brutal programme of wildlife persecution including the use of illegal traps and snares has been uncovered at one of Scotland’s leading game bird shooting estates following an investigation by the League Against Cruel Sports.

The owners of the Cawdor Estate (1), near Inverness, face a police enquiry after League investigators obtained evidence of the illegal use of gin traps – heavy steel devices with razor sharp teeth – as part of an apparent drive to systematically target wildlife deemed to pose a risk to the estate’s game bird stocks.

Secretly filmed video shows five gin traps which were outlawed over 40 years ago set in a circle around rabbit carcasses left out as bait. Gin traps do not kill quarry animals outright but hold them in place until being found, causing great suffering and distress. Animals have previously been reported to chew off their own trapped limbs in a desperate bid to struggle out of gin traps (2).

Investigators also obtained evidence of extensive snaring at the estate with dozens of wire snares filmed near to pens holding game bird stocks, including devices illegally attached to wooden dragpoles (3). The use of such non-static snares is notorious for resulting in great suffering, as any animal can become entwined and then drag the snare away rendering it impossible for a gamekeeper to check the snare in every twenty four hour as required by law.

The findings at Cawdor will prove damaging to the shooting lobby as they attempt to portray Scottish shooting as being concerned with conservation and the use of snares as humane in the run up to a key vote on the future of snaring. Wednesday will see members of the Environment and Rural Development Committee of the Scottish Parliament vote on amendments to the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Bill that seek to outlaw snaring in Scotland. (3a).

One League investigator, who obtained video film at the Cawdor Estate, said: The sheer density of snaring we’ve witnessed effectively turns this area into a deathtrap for wildlife. Id be surprised if there is any wild creatures left in such a hostile environment.

Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: Our investigation has exposed as a farce the shooting lobby claim that Scottish shooters are concerned about wildlife conservation. They might claim that their practices are beneficial to wildlife but in reality and away from the public’s gaze they are conducting a war on wildlife in order to protect game birds for shooting.

He continued: The use of snares is one of the most cruel aspects of predator control programmes and by outlawing their use entirely MSPs will be instrumental in saving the lives of many thousands of wild animals in Scotland annually.

It is not the first time that the Cawdor Estate has faced official scrutiny over allegations of wildlife persecution. In 2001 a golden eagle was illegally poisoned with the pesticide carbofuran on the estate (4) whilst a previous investigation revealed the systematic use of snares to trap and kill mountain hares; hundreds of snares were found on paths used by the hares and photographic evidence revealed the bodies of hares left in snares, some just a pile of bones on the path beneath the snare. (5)

Scottish gamekeepers are believed to be responsible for killing thousands of wild mammals and birds of prey annually, contributing to the 4.5 million animals and birds slaughtered each year in the UK in order to protect the 30 million game birds bred for shooting. (6)

Documents obtained by the League illustrate the scale of this largely unreported slaughter of Scottish wildlife: a vermin return form compiled by gamekeepers at the Millden Estate shoot in Brechin, Angus, records that in a single month, gamekeepers killed 698 rabbits, 37 hares, 19 stoats, 23 crows, three magpies, three jackdaws, one rook, three foxes, two wild cats, six gulls and one stag.(7)