Wildlife crime. Two words that should never belong together in the same sentence. In fact, they shouldn’t be anywhere near each other. For those of us who love wildlife and the natural world, we look on the idea of committing a crime against it with nothing less than utter disgust. This time, our incidence of wildlife crime occurred in the Cairngorms National Park, on the Royal Deeside grouse moorland. What was the crime? Traps. Illegal traps.
Last month, a spring trap was discovered by two walkers on the moorland. A trap, which clutched a common gull within its jaws. The trap had been set next to bait in the form of a dead rabbit and although the gull was still alive, it was bleeding and obviously, distressed. RSPB Scotland and the SSPCA were informed of the incident and an SSPCA investigator arrived at the scene to find that the bird had two broken legs. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the injuries that the gull had sustained were so severe that it had to be euthanised. However, a few days later, when a more extensive search was undertaken, ‘evidence’ was found of a further 8 traps, all attached to stakes and baited with more dead rabbits. However, these traps had, very recently, been removed. The identity of the individual or individuals who set the traps, is so far, not known. In 1997, on the same estate, a gamekeeper was fined £120 (what a deterrent) for illegally setting spring traps to catch rooks. Although spring traps are actually legal and are often used to catch small mammals such as rats and weasels, they have to be set in a particular way. They have to be set with an artificial ‘tunnel’, usually made of some kind of wire mesh, with a restricted entrance so that they are not likely to catch any species that are not the target, such as birds of prey.
Other than the obvious, there is too much wrong with this incident. For one, the fact that the SSPCA inspector could not conduct a wider search for other traps immediately. But why didn’t they? Well, unfortunately, they do not have the jurisdiction, so searches had to be postponed until the police could attend the scene. This undoubtedly gave time to those who had set the traps, and allowed them to remove any others that had been set. It is frustrating to say the least and why the SSPCA does not have the power to execute a search immediately is, quite frankly, bizarre.
However, the apparent controversy does not end here. Since the finding of the gull and the suspected traps set, the Invercauld Estate where the traps were found, have issued a statement. A very interesting statement, which reads as follows:
“The Estate became aware this morning of a press release made by the RSPB with regards to an allegation that a common gull had been caught in a trap on land at Invercauld Estate.
We have spoken with the police who we understand have made enquiries and we have also undertaken our own internal investigation. We understand the police have found no evidence of illegal activity and our own enquiry has lead to a similar conclusion.
Nevertheless we are extremely concerned by such an allegation and condemn outright any unlawful activity on Estate property. Our staff have been well trained in the law relating to moorland management and remain vigilant to any illegal activity whether this is intended to discredit the grouse industry or for other reasons.”
Wow. Not only does this statement seem to deny any knowledge or even the very occurrence of the crime concerning the gull, it also uses it to imply that they are ‘allegations’, being used to ‘discredit’ the grouse industry. Last time I checked, when it comes to illegal persecution, the industry was doing a perfectly good job of that itself. This statement just displays a high degree of total dismissal and an unwillingness to accept that illegal activity has or is taking place on the estate. If staff at the estate truly are ‘well trained’ (I am sure a lot of them are) in the laws of moorland management, then why would you not want to catch a criminal who is threatening the reputation of your estate with illegal activity? If anything, the immediate reaction that this is simply an attempt to discredit the grouse industry shows a level of defensiveness and usually (not always admittedly), when people react in such a way, it is because they have something to hide, or they know their behaviour has not been entirely acceptable.
Of course, if illegal activity was ‘proven’ then this would put another black mark next to the name of the estate. However, this is no reason to allow a criminal to get away with blatant wildlife crime. To call the possible persecution of birds of prey, or any other protected species ‘other reasons’, also diminishes the importance of these species and their conservation. It is pretty clear from this statement, that Inverclaude’s main concern is Inverclaude estate, and not the criminal activity that has taken, or is taking place here.
Unfortunately, this case stands for everything that is wrong with wildlife protection and the punishment of those who commit these crimes in the UK. So far, it looks doubtful that the culprit will be caught, though I am sure if they are, they will be given a pretty firm slap on the wrist and a damn good talking to. It’s not enough. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again until I’m blue in the face. Punishments are not tough enough. Investigations are hindered by bizarre rules and regulations and incidences such as these are just not taken seriously enough by those who claim to protect the wildlife on their lands. Take preventative action. Take responsibility.
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