The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has called for greater parity in the law, with vandalism of legal predator control traps in Scotland’s countryside becoming more frequent.
Gamekeepers, farmers and conservationists use legal traps to control abundant predators, with cages being used successfully recently for live-trapping grey squirrels to protect native reds.
Gamekeepers undergo training to set devices under licence to control abundant pests, protecting game and wildlife, and can face fines, loss of employment or even jail if devices are set unlawfully.
Poor trapping practice can increase the possibility of non-target species being caught, such as birds of prey, and farms and estates can receive hefty financial penalties.
However, gamekeepers are reporting worrying cases of damage and interference to these devices by members of the public accessing the countryside for dog walking or recreation.
Not only are there consequences for conservation, if a protected species became trapped or harmed in a damaged trap, the full repercussions would be shouldered by the gamekeeper- a breach of justice.
Despite providing evidence, gamekeepers say Police Scotland are reticent to act because, unlike strict provisions governing trap use, offences for the public damaging or interfering with traps are vague.
The SGA, which represents 5300 members, has sought clarification from Police Scotland on their procedures for dealing with such crimes, in a letter.
Their action comes after an individual was captured on a trail camera by a farmer, allegedly releasing birds from a trap and re-setting it, despite not being authorised.
Although the trap would then have been in contravention of the law, no action was taken.
A Scottish Government funded study into trap damage is expected to be published shortly.
SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “If someone can potentially have the ability to do their job taken away by the actions of someone else tampering with legal property, that is clearly wrong and the anomaly has to be levelled out in law.
“Whether it is one case, ten or fifty, there needs to be a clear offence to deal with this, or better use of powers available, just as there are robust offences for breaches by trap operators. Responsible access has to be about mutual fairness.”
He added: “It is everyone’s right to have an opinion on the game or farming industries but these tools allow people to do their jobs, are approved under licence from SNH, and help a variety of species, some of which are in conservation danger.
“Without traps, it would be harder for gamekeepers, for example, to look after such healthy numbers of endangered Curlew and Lapwing as well as game.
“The conservation consequences of public interference is partly about better education. However, misguided actions can also land innocent people in serious trouble and this must be reflected in how these incidents are dealt with.”
In July 2014, a gamekeeper in Perthshire spoke of an 18 month ordeal after SSPCA reported him for allegedly setting an illegal crow cage on a hillside.
Mike Reddington, whose job and family home were under threat, saw the case dropped by the Procurator Fiscal the night before trial, abetted by the production of three years of photographs of trap damage by members of the public.
Why Predator Control is Necessary: To find out how legal predator control by gamekeepers benefits endangered non-game species, such as wading birds, see: http://www.gwct.org.uk/
research/species/birds/ lapwing-and-other-waders/ predator-control-and-moorland- birds/
Summary: Scientific studies by Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) at Otterburn over 9 years showed that waders breed up to three times more successfully on grouse moors, benefiting from legal predator control and habitat management by gamekeepers.
RSPB pilot study research in 2010 on wader chick survival shows the impact of predators on waders :http://www.rspb.org.uk/
forprofessionals/science/ research/projects/268744-who- are-the-predators-of-the- chicks-of-breeding-waders
Summary: A 2010/2011 RSPB pilot study, using radio tags, showed that 46 of 51 radio tagged chicks were predated. (90 per cent).