Traps in our countryside, a walker’s guide 2013

's avatar

11 June 2012
speech bubble Comments (24)

The countryside can be a place of tranquility and is where many of us escape to for some peace, as well as a chance to appreciate the natural beauty of our fauna and flora.

However, there can be a less attractive side to the countryside. Whether it is a stroll through woodland, a hike across the hills or a jog along a country track, it is possible that you may come across a more unpleasant scene than the one you were expecting. Here, I want to update and refresh a previous blog which I wrote, which is a guide to traps in the countryside and what to do if you come across them.

Traps set in the countryside, of which there are thousands set throughout the UK, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and are designed to catch a variety of mammals and birds. Many of the traps found will be legal, some will be of a legal type, but have been set up in an illegal manner and some are just downright illegal.

The main purpose of trapping animals in our countryside, by those that set them, is to kill animals that they see as a threat to their business, which more often than not is to rear birds to be shot for entertainment.

If you do come across a trap that you find suspicious or possibly illegal then you should contact the police and if you discover an animal that looks injured, sick or is a protected species in a trap then it would be a good idea to also contact the RSPB, SSPCA or RSPCA. It is illegal to tamper with a legal trap, but if you have any doubts or concerns about a trap then make enquiries with one of the above organisations or authorities for clarification.

OneKind would also be keen to hear about anything that you find and if you have a camera or camera phone with you then it may be a good idea to take some photos of what you have found. It is also worth trying to get the exact location of where you are if you do come across something, which will help those who you report your findings to.

Here are a few examples of traps that have been found within the Scottish countryside. Though the legislation for setting traps in Scotland is mainly the same as the rest of the UK, there may be one or two variations.

Larsen trap (Scotland) - Illegally set

illegal larsen trap

This would be a legal trap if it wasn’t for the fact that the ‘decoy’ or ‘calling’ bird used to attract other birds into the cage was a Jay bird as only carrion crows, rooks or magpies can legally be used as decoys in Scotland. Note the sign attached to the side of the cage which informs the public that the cage is legal even though the cage was being used unlawfully.

All corvid traps must have a unique ID number/code attached to them which identifies the estate and owner of the cage. This is required by law and the cage operator has to apply for these codes from the police when they register there trap. If they do not and the cage has no ID tag or sign with a unique code number on it then it will be an illegally set cage and therefore should be reported.

Sadly, the condition of this Jay was very poor and it was later humanely put to sleep by a vet.

Larsen trap (Scotland) - Legal

legal larsen trap

A legal Larsen trap requires that the live decoy bird must have access to water, a suitable perch, food and be provided with shelter. Again, the trap is only legal if it has an identification tag or sign on it which is issued by the local police authority. The tag will often be white and tied to the cage.

Crow - Ladder and Funnel - trap (Scotland) - Illegally set

Crow cage trap

This trap has no identification tag which it is legally required to have like the Larsen traps above. Just like Larson traps, the crow trap tag is issued by the police and has a unique number/code on it which identifies the estate. If it does not have this ID number then the cage operator may be breaking the law. This cage was found to contain twelve crows. The crow trap must by law have suitable perching, access to water; food and shelter for the decoy bird and the gamekeeper should be checking the cage within a twenty four hour period and removing any birds that have been caught. In this case it appears that no check has been made for a while. So many territorial crows in an enclosed space can cause welfare issues as well as there not being enough shelter and perching space for such a large number of birds.

Crow - Funnel - trap (Scotland) Legal

Crow cage trap

The crow cage trap is legal as it has a suitable perch, shelter, water, food and an identification tag attached. If it did not have any one of these then it would not meet the legal requirements and would be illegal.

Crow - Funnel - trap (Scotland) Illegally set

Crow cage trap illegally set

This crow cage trap had no ID tag and therefore should not be set to trap birds. Unfortunately, the trap was set with bait in the cage and had caught a protected buzzard. After this photo was taken, the condition of the bird was checked then evidence was taken and reported to the relevant authorities. The buzzard was then released back into the wild.

Crow - Ladder - trap (Scotland) Illegally set

Crow cage trap illegally set

This cage had caught a Goshawk. Bird seed was found scattered on the floor of the cage and the remains of a small bird, probably used as live bait and killed by the goshawk, was also discovered which would indicate that the cage had been specifically managed to catch birds of prey. The Goshawk in the picture was in good physical condition and so after evidence was taken and reported to the relevant authorities, it was released back into the wild.

Crow - Ladder - trap (Scotland) - Illegally set

Ladder trap

This trap had been set to catch birds of prey such as goshawks. Two live pigeons had been put into the cage as bait. The raptor will enter the cage and attack the pigeons, but will not be able to escape and later the game keeper will return and kill the legally protected bird of prey. The two pigeons in this picture, being used as live bait, were unharmed and after evidence was taken and reported to the relevant authorities, they were released back into the wild.

Clam/snapper trap (illegally set)

Clam or snapper trap

This trap is made of a thick wire and is held open by a false perch. Often, bait is set on the floor of the trap and above it is a stick cut in two pieces which acts as the perch. The trap has springs and when the bird lands on the perch the perch collapses, which triggers the cage to slam shut and catches the bird. This cage can be indiscriminate in the birds that it traps, including protected birds such as raptors. Scottish Natural Heritage has recently permitted these traps to be officially used in Scotland, even though there are clear welfare concerns over it's use. In the past, as the illustration above shows, carrion was allowed to be used as bait, but now, in Scotland, only eggs or bread can be used. If anything other than eggs or bread is found being used to attract birds into the trap then the trap will be illegal and it is advised to report it to the RSPB and the police.

If you come across these traps then it is advisable to contact the RSPCA, SSPCA, RSPB or your local Police Wildlife Officer.

Fen trap (Scotland) - Illegally set

Fen trap illegally set

Though this spring trap is legal, the way it is being used here is not. It is legal to set the trap onto a log crossing a stream, but the fen trap should have some kind of covering over it to restrict the species of animal that can be caught by it. The wire over this trap is wide open and could catch the face of an inquisitive fox, bird or any other animal that can fit through the end of the wire tunnel. The springs on this trap are very powerful and can crush bone. The wire tunnel should be much more restricted at both ends to catch its target species such as the stoat and weasel.

Fen trap (Scotland) - legal

Fen trap

The game keeper here has restricted the size at each end of the tunnel and so only the intended target animals such as the stoat and weasel should be able to pass through to the spring trap.

Mammal cage trap (Scotland) - Legal

Pine marten in mammal cage trap

Though the cage is legal to use to catch animals such as foxes or mink, in this case it had caught a protected Pine Marten. If the gamekeeper is checking his cages regularly then he should discover the animal in good health and is required by law to release it unharmed. After first checking his condition, the Pine Marten in this picture was released back into the wild and was reported to the relevant authorities.

Wire snares


Wire snares are another form of trapping device with hundreds of thousands set throughout the UK. The snare in this picture is unlawfully set. Scottish law requires all snares, set or in position to be set, to be tagged with an official ID number and the name of the species of animal that the snare is intended for, such as fox or rabbit. The laws related to snares in the rest of the UK are different and so if you come across such a device whilst out in the countryside and have concerns about it's legality or find an animal, dead or alive, trapped in one then it would be advisable to contact the SSPCA, RSPCA or local Wildlife Police Officer for help and advice. Also it would be very helpful if you could let us know about your snare finds at the OneKind SnareWatch website.

As with the legal cage and spring traps, it is also an offence to tamper with a legal snare. For further information on what is and is not a legal snare then you may find this resource useful. Alternatively contact OneKind on 0131 661 9734 and we will try to help.

comments powered by Disqus

Saving Scotland's Foxes with Hessilhead