The four UK administrations have separate legislation and codes of practice covering snaring. In Scotland, England and Wales, the main legislation is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and in Northern Ireland, the Wildlife Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. Both wildlife laws prohibit the use of self-locking snares but permit free-running snares.
Certain animals including badger, wildcat, hedgehog, pine marten, otter, polecat and red squirrel are protected from killing, including by snares. In Northern Ireland the wildcat is not included on this list, but the Irish hare, brown hare, fallow deer, red deer and sika deer are protected.
The Conservation (Natural Habitats &c) Regulations 1994, as amended, also contain provisions relevant to non-selective traps and protected species including mountain hare.
Captured animals are also theoretically protected from ill-treatment by domestic animal welfare legislation covering animals “under the control of man” in the UK – the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, Animal Welfare Act 2006 and Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.
*New regulations governing the placing and setting of snares in Scotland were first introduced in April 2010. (*Snares (Scotland) Order 2010). The provisions were re-stated in s.13 of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 (the WANE Act), which inserted detailed new provisions into s.11 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, along with provisions for user training and requirements for identification tags on snares set for foxes, rabbits or brown hares.
The WANE provisions include the following:
- All snares used in Scotland must have a stop on them, so that the noose cannot close to a circumference less than 23 centimetres for a fox snare, or 13 centimetres for any other animal. Snares must be fixed to the ground, meaning that drag snares, where the snare is attached to a heavy object that the animal can pull away from its original position, are prohibited.
- Snares must not be set where the animal is likely to become suspended (for example, by jumping over an adjacent fence and being left to hang there), or close to water where it is likely to drown.
- Anyone setting a snare in Scotland must inspect it (or cause it to be inspected), at least once every day at intervals of no more than 24 hours to see whether an animal is caught in it and to see whether it is free-running. If it is not free-running, it must be removed or repaired. Any captured animal must be released or removed, regardless of whether it is alive or dead.
- Snares may only be set with the landowner or occupier’s permission.
The WANE Act requires all snare users in Scotland to undertake a short training course after which they can obtain a personal identification number from Police Scotland. Every snare set for foxes, rabbits or brown hares must carry a tag bearing the identification number and showing which of these animals it is intended to catch.
The Snares (Training) (Scotland) Order 2015 sets out the purpose of training and lists five gamekeeping and shooting industry bodies and three Scottish colleges approved to deliver it. The Snares (Identification Numbers and Tags) (Scotland) Order 2012 requires snare users to have approved accreditation and a personal identification number from the police. Non-compliance with the Orders is a breach of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The WANE Act provides that the “identification number which appears on a tag fitted on a snare is presumed in any proceedings to be the identification number of the person who set the snare in position”.
Snare users must also record: the location of every snare currently set; the location of every snare set within the past two years; the date on which each snare was set; the date on which each snare was removed; the type of animal caught and the date it was found.
Snare operators in Scotland are recommended to follow a voluntary Practitioners’ Guide produced by a consortium of industry bodies at the request of the Scottish Government.
Review of Scottish snaring legislation
Under section 11F of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 198, as revised by the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 the Scottish Ministers are required to review the law on snaring every five years. The first report by Scottish Natural Heritage, published in early 2017, recommended improvements to the Scottish Snaring Code of Practice, as well as legislation to:
- Implement a time period for updating snare records and reduce the time allowed for producing records to the police;
- Increase the stop position on fox snares to enlarge the noose size to 26cm;
- Increase the number of swivels on fox snares to a minimum of two;
- Introduce the power of disqualification for a snaring offence;
- Consider how a strengthened Code of Practice can be better endorsed through legislation.
None of this legislation has been introduced. The next review should be published by 31 December 2021.
The legislation provides that snares must be inspected every day and must not be set in a manner calculated to cause bodily injury to any wild animal coming into contact with them. Unlike Scotland, there has been no new legislation to amend the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, although consideration has been given to a new consolidated wildlife Bill.
Snare users in England are recommended to follow a voluntary Code of Best Practice on the use of snares for fox control in England developed by shooting industry and farming bodies and endorsed by DEFRA.
While the primary legislation in Wales is the same as in England, the Welsh Government updated its Code of Practice on Snaring in 2015, in consultation with gamekeepers, farming and animal welfare groups. The Welsh code sets out the relevant legal requirements and additionally advises operators to consider whether the use of snares is necessary and justified, bearing in mind the risks of catching non-target animals, the welfare implications of all captures and the practicality of alternative control methods. The Welsh code advises: “If in doubt, do not set a snare.”
In Northern Ireland, in addition to the prohibition on self-locking snares, all snares must be inspected every 24 hours and any animal found must be released or removed, regardless of whether it is alive or dead. Snares may only be set with the landowner’s or occupier’s permission.
The Wildlife Order (Northern Ireland) 1985 was amended by the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (NI) 2011, which introduced new controls over the use of snares in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Assembly decided to retain snaring but to increase statutory standards by way of an Order. The Snares Order (Northern Ireland) 2015 was lodged in November 2015 but then put on hold when it met with public demands for stronger measures.