Birds of prey in Scotland will be at risk of injury or death because of a decision to allow the use of so-called “clam traps”, according to campaigners.
SNH has agreed to license the use of clam traps from next year.
The trap system works by snapping shut when a bird lands on a perch to feed on bait.
They are designed to capture crows and magpies, but RSPB Scotland said “non-target” species such as buzzards and sparrowhawks would also be at risk.
It is claimed larger traps could even pose a threat to golden eagles.
Duncan Orr-Ewing, of RSPB Scotland, said:
There have been many recent incidents, including some resulting in prosecutions, illustrating the widespread misuse of the current range of traps and the deliberate targeting of protected species.
“RSPB Scotland has documented 127 confirmed incidents related to the use of ‘crow’ traps over the last 10 years, including the deliberate killing of captured birds of prey, the starvation of trapped birds, and evidence of a widespread lackadaisical attitude towards adherence to current licence conditions.
“With this in mind, we are very concerned that the licensing of new, untested traps will only increase the threats faced by our raptors.”
The Chief Superintendent of the Scottish SPCA, Mike Flynn, told BBC Scotland:
“We did recommend that these clam traps should be subject to an independent, scientific trial before being licensed.
“Until such a trial has taken place, which demonstrates that these traps do not cause injury or harm to any species caught, the Scottish SPCA continues to have concerns over them.”
The legal status of clam traps had been unclear and gamekeepers have welcomed SNH’s decision to license their use on a trial basis, arguing a wide range of species including wading birds and red squirrels will benefit.
Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association Alex Hogg said:
“We and other land-based agencies welcome the clarity that has been provided by SNH on the matter of identifying legal traps for use.
“Clam traps have been used for the past four years with no evidence of welfare issues.
“They are used as effective tools for the protection of game birds from predation. Black grouse and waders, whose numbers are of conservation concern, have also been shown to benefit.”
Scottish Natural Heritage has pledged to monitor the use of clam traps carefully.
Ben Ross, SNH’s licensing manager, said:
“We will commission objective research on these traps; if the research shows they pose unacceptable risks, we will then prohibit them.
“We’ll also work with partners to develop a code of practice for the use of traps.”
BBC NEWS ARE REPORTING THAT A GOLDEN EAGLE ‘WAS KILLED BY A TRAP’
The bird had been fitted with a satellite transmitter which showed it had not moved for several days.
Its body was found, lying face down with its wings folded, under a tree and close to a lay-by on a quiet country road near Aboyne on Deeside.
RSPB Scotland has offered a £1,000 reward for information that leads to a successful prosecution in the case.
The bird was found on 5 May, before being taken for a post-mortem examination at the Scottish Agricultural College laboratory in Aberdeen.
This concluded that the bird had suffered two broken legs due to trauma
“that could be consistent with an injury caused by a spring type trap” and that the severity of these injuries “would prevent the bird from being able to take off”.
The bird had been fitted with a transmitter by RSPB Scotland staff, in full partnership with a local landowner, a few days before it had fledged from a nest in the Monadhliath Mountains, south-east of Inverness, in July 2011.
Stuart Housden RSPB Scotland said –
“Anyone who cares about our wildlife will be disgusted by what appears to be an appalling crime and the lengths taken to hide the facts from discovery”
By re-examining the satellite data, RSPB Scotland staff discovered the young bird spent its first few months in that area before venturing further afield. By April 2012 it was frequenting an area of upper Deeside, before moving south-west into Glenshee.
On 28 April, the bird moved eastwards into Angus. The following day, at 06:00, the bird was located on a hillside overlooking Glen Esk.
Over the next 15 hours, a succession of satellite tag readings, accurate to within less than 20 metres, showed that the bird did not move from this precise spot until at least 21:00 that evening, after nightfall.
However, by 04:00 the next morning, it appeared to have travelled, during the hours of darkness, some 10 miles north, to the location where its body was discovered five days later.
Satellite readings revealed that while the bird did not move from this position, it was probably alive until 4 May.
Follow-up enquires by both Tayside and Grampian Police found no further evidence about how the eagle sustained its injuries.
It could also not be established how the eagle came to move from Glen Esk to a position under a tree branch on Deeside overnight.
However, a number of eagle down-feathers were found between the lay-by and the bird’s final resting place.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, commented:
“It is disgraceful that this magnificent bird was subjected to such suffering. The post-mortem evidence suggests that this bird was caught in an illegally-set trap, smashing both legs.
“The data obtained from the satellite transmitter indicated that the eagle did not move from one spot, on a hill high above Glen Esk, for over 15 hours.
“Then, during the night, when eagles do not readily fly, it has inexplicably moved to a new position, hidden under a tree and close to a road. Here, over the next four days, this eagle suffered a lingering death.”
Stuart Housden, RSPB Scotland director, added:
“Whilst efforts to stamp out the illegal poisoning of birds of prey are perhaps beginning to yield results, this dreadful case shows that the persecution of our raptors continues through the use of traps and other means.
“We call upon anyone who can provide further information about this case to contact the wildlife crime officer at either Tayside or Grampian Police without delay.
“Cases like this really do have a negative impact on Scotland’s reputation as a country that respects and values all its wildlife heritage. I am today offering a £1,000 reward for information that will assist a successful prosecution.”
A satellite-tagged golden eagle, named Alma by researchers, was found to have been illegally poisoned in Glen Esk in 2009, while other poisoned eagles fitted with transmitters were found in Grampian in 2011, and in Lochaber earlier this year.