The anti-hunting activist Jordi Casamitjana looks at the issue of killing wildlife with snares, and how the campaigns to ban snaring are progressing
It was my first proper lobby job in Wales.
When on 30th November 2016 I travelled to Cardiff to give testimony before the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee of the Welsh Senedd (The Welsh Parliament, previously called the Welsh Assembly), this was one of the few occasions that I had to wear a suit and tie, the uniform of political lobbyists. Despite I don’t like wearing them (especially the tie), it was worth doing so, because the fate of many foxes, rabbits, badgers and even cats was at stake. The Welsh parliament was seriously considering banning the practice of “snaring” use to kill wildlife deemed as “pests” by farmers and shooters, a move that was welcomed by the many animal rights activists and animal protection organisations who had been campaigning for years throughout the UK for such a ban.
I had recently re-joined (because I had worked with them ten years prior) the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), which was one of such organisations, and as its new Head of Policy and Research, it was my job not only to write reports about this subject — as I did — but also to provide expert testimony in parliamentary events all over the UK. Although this campaign had been progressing in Scotland and England, Wales seem to be much closer to a ban, so it was worth travelling to Cardiff and talking to the members of the Senedd. It kind of worked, because six years later, Wales became the first of the British nations to commit to banning snaring. On 27th September 2022, the Welsh Government announced at the Senedd that its new Welsh Agriculture Bill will include the Programme for Government commitment to a complete ban on the use of snares and glue traps.
To mark this occasion, I thought it would be worth writing a long article about snaring and exploring where are we in our quest to ban this horrible rural practice.
The Wires of Death
Snares are a type of wildlife traps consisting of thin wire nooses intended to catch the animals around the neck or limbs like a lasso. In some countries, they are used to catch canids or mustelids (such as coyotes or mink) for their fur. In others, to trap big birds for food. In the UK, they are usually set to target foxes and rabbits, which are considered “pests” by farmers, but especially by the shooting industry (as it claims foxes kill the birds it charges people to shoot). Snares are used extensively on “game” bird shoots throughout the UK, but despite they are set to catch foxes, many other animals are caught in them, such as the protected badgers. Most animals caught end up either dying long agonising deaths or being shot when the person attending the snare (normally the gamekeeper) found them still alive.
They are usually made of steel wire but can also be made of brass. Snares are usually placed along runs or pathways normally used by the target species, or at the entrances of the animals’ dens or burrows. Snares can capture any animal that happens to step into them, even if they were not from the targeted species. A 2012 UK government study found that only around a quarter of the animals trapped in snares were the intended targets (normally foxes), while the remaining caught included hares, badgers, domestic cats and dogs, deer, and even otters. In 2016, LACS estimated that snares had the potential to trap up to 1,700,000 animals every year in the UK. Only a quarter of the animals caught in the up to 51,000 snares hidden in the Welsh countryside at any one time are the target species.
Many countries have already banned snaring, but in the ones that have not yet, there have been long-held campaigns that led to some regulation. For instance, in the UK, although snaring is still legal, some types of snares have already been banned for some time. Snares are normally classed as either self-locking snares, that once tied around the body part of the animal get locked and cannot be untied, or free-running snares, which should not do that. However, the latter can easily become self-locking snares in some circumstances (bending components, rust, etc.). The former is illegal in the UK while the latter is still legal (but will become illegal soon in Wales).
The modern legal snare in the UK is meant to tighten around the caught animals and hold them quietly until a gamekeeper finds them and shoots them, but the reality is that this does not work in practice. While the animals desperately struggle to escape, they suffer a great deal and could be strangled anyway because the snare ends up not functioning as intended. Even if the snare doesn’t kill the animals straight away, they may still die of dehydration, predation, or exposure to harsh weather.
The National Anti Snaring Campaign (NASC) is the main organisation in the UK that campaigns against the sale and manufacture of animal snares, and they have identified the following types found in the country (indicating whether they are legal or not):
DB Snare – Code Compliant Snare with Breakaway. This much-touted fox snare, designed by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, claims to allow smaller non-target species to escape and features a Relax-A-Lock.
Breakaway Snare. The DB Snare is by far the most popular Breakaway fox snare, however, there are a variety of similar designs, such as the Glen Waters Breakaway Snare. These are usually based on US snare designs but are not commonly used.
AB Snare – Illegal and Legal. This fox snare is manufactured by AB Country Products. It was found to be self-locking in its original design but has been modified to make it free-running. However, thousands of the old snares are still in use, so they should be examined carefully to see if they lock.
Dual Purpose Snare – Illegal and Legal. This fox snare is set as self-locking. They are still sold but should only have the wire threaded through the hole on the vertical part of the strut.
Self-Locking Snare – Illegal. This fox snare is particular rare in the UK and was probably imported. The use of self-locking snares is prohibited under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. However, many are still in use today.
Home Made Snare. A homemade snare that will either lock up or can be free running. Badgers have escaped from them, but not before scalping themselves. Many rabbit snares are homemade and range in injury they caused to the trapped animal.
Kill Pole Snare – Illegal. Although illegal it is difficult to prove it. This fox snare is promoted as a Kill Pole Snare by some UK snarers on hunting websites. Apparently, the aim is that the fox will get caught and then strangle itself as it gets wrapped around the metal pole in the struggle.
Rabbit Snare. Are usually made from stranded brass wire fitted with either wire tealers or natural tealers (nylon cord, etc). [A tealer is a component of the snare that holds its loop at the right height to catch the target animals].
What Is Wrong with Snares
It should be obvious to everyone that snares cause suffering and death — which is what is wrong with them — but why some snares are legal, and others are not? Frankly, because when there has been any attempt to ban snaring, politicians often caved from the pressure of farmers, the fur industry, and the shooting industry and tried the regulation route accepting some modifications made to the snares and a code of practice. However, in reality, all snares cause suffering and death, so all should be banned. This is what I said in the Senedd’s commission when the chair asked me if I could see any use for snares (you can watch the video of the entire session here):
“We don’t believe so. We believe that the snares themselves are devices that, no matter how much regulation, no matter how much modification you use, you won’t be able to eliminate the two major problems that they have inherent in them. One is that they’re indiscriminate, so you can reduce that indiscriminate element they contain by modifying the sizes and adding devices, but no research has shown any type of snare that is 100 per cent accurate in catching the target species. There are always other animals going to be caught, and these animals might be endangered animals, they might be pets. That’s the nature of the device.
The other part is the animal welfare component of it — animal welfare meaning not just injury, not just death, but also fear and distress. It is impossible to develop a code in which the animal caught is not going to be in fear or in distress. As you know, in many of the advances in animal welfare, which led to modifications in the way in which we kill animals when we need to kill them, in abattoirs, in other places, the whole emphasis is on trying to minimise fear and distress, reducing the time, reducing the pain. None of these elements can be done with the snares. By nature, the animal is caught, often without anybody around, and it might take some time before somebody can despatch it or deal with it. That’s inherent to snares, so therefore we don’t believe that you could create a code that eliminates the animal welfare problems or eliminates the catching of a non-target species.”
Unfortunately, it took six years to let all this sink in, so after trying codes of conduct and realising they did not work — as we kept saying — they opted for a total ban to be hopefully passed soon. I guess a 2021 YouGov plc poll showing that 78% of the Welsh public wanted a ban on snares in Wales was the last straw.
However, we must recognise that most politicians are not vegan, so they would not see snares as totally cruel ways to kill animals that should instead be left alone, as we vegans do. They believe that some animals must be killed, and they are just deciding how — which would be difficult when you have experts from different sides suggesting contradictory methods. As LACS is not a vegan organisation, and I was representing them during the meeting I had with the Welsh commission — and when writing reports about this issue — I could not simply use my personal “vegan arguments” about how unethical is to kill animals. Instead, I had to argue about why snaring was one of the worse methods, but at the same time trying to do it without legitimising other lethal methods — which is a difficult balance to keep (in lobbying, you need to speak the language decision-makers speak). Luckily, in the case of wildlife management, there are several non-lethal methods (the good methods) that can be used instead, such as tree guards (to protect young trees and shrubs from rabbit browsing and bark stripping), novel disturbances (such as flashing lights or rotating beacons), habitat management (such as the removal of sheep carrion in areas of upland), exclusion fencing, or even doing nothing and letting nature find its balance (possibly the best method).
One of the Commission’s members, Mark Reckless MS, asked me this question:
Some proponents of the use of snares, for instance, shooting organisations, say that, without snares, they can’t protect nesting game birds, and the model they have in terms of rearing and shooting those birds would not function without the use of snares. Is that for you a further reason for pushing for a ban on snares, since you don’t support the rearing or shooting of birds in that circumstance?
I replied with the following:
Not really, although it’s a factor that we consider, and, in our campaigns against shooting, we use the snaring fact as well. In talking about the need for snares for wildlife management: we would argue that there are other methods, there are alternatives. If we accepted that there is a need for wildlife management — which we don’t in many cases — but, if we did, we would still argue that snares are the wrong method. We still would argue that there are more humane methods, more effective methods, and a huge amount of methods of which some are very humane; others might be less humane but, with regulation, could be better. So, from all the array of options that you have for wildlife management, snares are at the bottom of the worst. I think it would be perfectly legitimate for a Government of any kind to ban the worst types, regulate the ones that are in the middle, and promote the ones that are very good. And we believe that snaring is at the bottom of the worst types, so that’s why we believe that it needs to be banned.
But, definitely, we also have an issue about whether there is a need for wildlife management, and whether the killing of a fox, for instance, will solve the problem that the gamekeeper is trying to solve. Because we often have said, based on much research we have seen, that foxes self-regulate — you kill some foxes and foxes come and replace them, and there’s a kind of a continuous killing that doesn’t really solve the economic problem that the shooting industry faces, if they just try to blame the fox for the reduction of income.”
In the end, though, “wildlife management” is simply an excuse for those who exploit animals for profit, either to run their pheasant and grouse shooting businesses (as is the case of most snaring in the UK) or fur industries (as in other countries). This means that, strategically, removing snaring from the tools at the disposal of such industries may make their activities more difficult, and when this is added to a significant demand reduction, it may ultimately lead to their deserved demise. So, campaigning to ban snaring is a good vegan tactical goal because it may lead to the abolition of a significant form of cruel animal exploitation. This is why I was happy to do it, even from a non-vegan organisation — which ended up firing me a couple of years later because of my ethical veganism.
Who Banned Snaring
A few countries have specifically banned snaring, especially in Europe. In the EU, 78% of the countries have banned the use of snares. There are only six EU countries I know of that have not banned snaring entirely: Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Spain, and Sweden. Some of the countries that allow snaring have banned it regionally, as in the case of Belgium where it is banned in Flanders.
When I was working at LACS, I researched the issue of which EU countries banned snaring, and I co-authored a report titled “The Problems of Snaring in the UK, and its Alternatives”, in which I showed the results. I found out that in Austria snares are banned with § 5 (prohibition of animal cruelty), Paragraph 16 of the Animal Welfare Act (BGBl.I Nr.118 / 2004, as amended), and separate laws in each state; in Bulgaria with the Biological Diversity Act and Hunting and Game Protection Act; in Croatia with the Hunting Act (Official Gazette no. 10/94); in Cyprus with the Legislation no. 152 (I) / 2003 (Law for the protection of Wild Birds and Game Species); in Czechia, with Law no. 225/1947, law on hunting – Zákon č. 225/1947 Sb., zákon o myslivosti Currently Law no. 449/2001, law on hunting – Zákon č.449/2001; in Denmark, with the Act on Hunting and Game Management 2013; in Estonia, from the beginning of the Second Republic (1991) and also during the Soviet time; in Germany, the capture of animals with snares is a violation of the hunting law (illegal hunting method, or offense of poaching), breach of the Federal Nature Conservation Act (if protected species of animals are concerned) and breach of the animal welfare legislation (if animals are actually injured or killed by the snares); in Greece, snaring is banned with Law 1335/83 “Ratification of an International Convention for the Conservation of the Wildlife and Natural Environment of Europe”; in Hungary, with Law LV 1996; in Italy, with Law 11th Feb 1992, n.157; in Latvia, with the Hunting Act 2003; in Lithuania, with Regulation on Hunting (issued by the Order of the Minister of Environment), Administrative Code; in Luxembourg, with Loi du 19 janvier 2004, Art. 27; Loi du 25 mai 2011, Art.10 u; in Malta, with the Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations (SL 549.44) and the Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations (SL 549.42); in the Netherlands, with the Nature Conservation Act 2017; in Poland, with the Environmental Protection Act 2001; in Portugal, with the Hunting Act 1999 (Lei da Caça, n.º 173/99, de 21 de September); in Romania, with GEO 57/2007; in Slovakia, with Act on hunting no. 274/2009 Coll. Art 65; in Slovenia, with the Act on Game and Hunting (Official Gazette of RS, Nos. 16/04, 120/06 – dec. US, 17/08 and 46/14 – ZON-C below: ZDLov). Switzerland also has a complete ban on the use of snares, but Norway allows it in some circumstances.
During my research, I contacted more than 200 NGOs and Government officials in all 27 EU countries and most did not report anything that suggests that their snaring bans were not working (I only heard of poor enforcement from Bulgaria and Italy).
In Australia, the situation changes from state to state. The New South Wales Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 permits treadle snares (a type of snare that has a tightening mechanism that activates when the animal steps on it). The Queensland Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 also allows them. The Tasmania Animal Welfare Act 1993 prohibits snares. In Victoria, lethal snares are illegal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, but non-kill snares require Ministerial approval. Neck snares are illegal in Western Australia. In New Zealand, snares can be used, and there is very little regulation on how.
In the US, snares are mostly used by the fur trapping industry. The use of snares to capture animals killed for their fur is allowed in 40 states. In some, the use of snares is restricted for beavers, otters and canids. Four states require trappers to take a snare-specific class before they may use snares; 34 states allow the use of snares in land sets; most states restrict the locations where snares may be set; the majority of states require snares to be checked daily; snares may be used for live restraint or lethal capture, depending on the components of the snare and the location of the set (snares may be set for live restraint in 33 states, and 27 states allow snares as lethal devices).
Snares are still legal in Canada to target canids by licensed trappers, but some regulations must be followed to set them. Many countries in the world have not banned snares, but there is no snaring tradition in them and they are not used.
What will Happen Now in the UK?
I met Simon Wild when he took me hunt sabbing before the Hunting Act 2004 was enacted, as I needed to study the issue of foxhunting on the ground. This is because I had been hired by LACS as its hunting campaigner (the first time around I worked for them in 2004). Simon was also one of the expert witnesses in the above-mentioned Senedd Commission’s meeting, as he is the main spokesperson of the National Anti-Snaring Campaign too. He wrote this about the Welsh ban on its website:
“In 2016 the National Anti Snaring Campaign and Jordi Casamitjana of LACS spoke at the Welsh Senedd Environmental Committee Meeting in Cardiff calling for a ban on snaring. The Committee decided to go down the Code of Practice route. NASC has subsequently made further submissions to show that the code is not working. The Welsh government has announced that Wales will be the first country in the UK to introduce a complete ban on the use of snares.
A spokesman for NASC has visited the Welsh Senedd and given evidence to the Scrutiny Committee for the Agriculture (Wales) Bill, which if passed will ban snares and glue traps in Wales.”
The Welsh Bill will now follow this process:
- The Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee of the Welsh Senedd will consider key issues for reporting on the Bill and then produce a draft report. These discussions will be held in private during mid-December 2022 and early January 2023. The Stage 1 report will be then translated into Welsh and laid before the Senedd (the reporting deadline is 27th January 2023).
- The report will then be debated in Government’s time, most likely in the second week of February 2023.
- The Bill will proceed directly to Stage 2 the following day if the motion to agree on the general principles of the Bill passes at the end of that debate (as is expected).
I recently could up with Simon, and I asked him how the current situation is for the rest of the UK. This is what he replied:
“We are hoping that the parliamentary debate, 9th January 2023 at 6 pm, following the successful petition on banning snares, will push DEFRA into launching its ‘Call for Evidence of snaring’ that we were promised last April.
In anticipation of that evidential request, the National Anti Snaring Campaign commissioned Professor Stephen Harris to write an 85-page Review of the use of snares in the United Kingdom, which has extracted all the available data and made the most compelling case for their abolition. At the same time, we commissioned laboratory studies into the force required to break the weak link of the ‘breakaway snare’ that the shooting lobby has devised to allow non-target badgers to escape fox snares. That force equates to eleven stone, and all falling on 2 mm of wire. While we know that many of the 70% of badgers that do not escape get injured, there is no data on what happens to those that do!
I have presented Professor Harris’s report to the cross-party Animal Welfare Committee of the Scottish Parliament, and I felt it was well received, and I could see Scotland going the way of Wales and banning snares within the next two years.
Westminster has some catching up to do, I have no doubt the debate in Parliament in January will be the start of a process that will see snares banned in England.”
Sounds promising. Simon mentions a report from Professor Stephen Harris BSc PhD DSc, a zoologist expert on foxes, which was published in April 2022 under the title “A Review of the Use of Snares in the UK.” The report has the following highlighted conclusions:
“Over the last 70 years, proponents of snaring have failed to produce data to support their claims that it is necessary to continue to snare wildlife in the UK. Efficient and humane alternatives to snaring foxes and rabbits are now in widespread use.”
“Even though the IWG [Independent Working Group] reported that the lack of data on the use of snares, and in particular their welfare impact, is a major problem when trying to make cost/benefit assessments about when the use of snares may be justifiable, interest groups have still not provided the basic data needed to justify their claims that the use of snares is essential. Since both fox and rabbit snares are only used on a very small proportion of landholdings, it seems reasonable to assume that any benefits from using snares are, at the best, minimal.”
“Current trapping standards have little, if any, relevance to the use of snares in the UK. There are no welfare standards that apply to the use of ‘restraining’ neck snares, and, whatever guidance is in place, it is very difficult to minimise the risk of adverse welfare impacts resulting from snare use. Key issues include the indiscriminate nature of snares and the pain and suffering caused to animals.”
“The legislation relating to snaring in the UK is currently being reviewed in each member country. There is a growing awareness that there is no effective protection against unnecessary suffering for either target or non-target captures, and that user-groups have failed to produce any quantified data on the scale of use, efficacy and humaneness of snares.”
“It is not possible to monitor the use and abuse of snares in the UK, and any changes in legal requirements, Codes of Practice or best-practice guidelines will be unenforceable.”
“The use of snares in the UK does not meet acceptable standards of animal welfare or any of the principles for ethical wildlife control established by a committee of international experts. Some methods used to kill wild animals have such extreme effects on their welfare that, regardless of the potential benefits, their use is never justified: snaring is such a method. All the available data show that the only way to stop extremely high levels of non-target capture, illegal use and misuse of snares, address animal welfare concerns, and recognise that wild animals are sentient beings, is to prohibit the manufacture, sale, possession and use of snares in the UK.”
I believe that if other reports would have been commissioned in other countries where they still allow any form of snaring, and would have been researched by reputable independent scientists such as Prof Harris, the conclusions would be very similar.
The Warming Candle
It is almost unthinkable that this so-obviously cruel method of killing animals still exists when many more humane methods of wildlife management are available (including not killing anyone), but this is what happens in a carnist world where vegans are still a small minority and they have to campaign for the abolition of animal exploitation one exploitation at a time, one method at a time, and even one device at a time.
It’s frustrating to see the painstakingly slow improvement in each single-issue animal protection campaign. But even with the urgency of the climate emergency, the overreaching solution that veganism provides is also only taken seriously by a minority of the population — and even a smaller minority of decision-makers — so progress there is even slower. This means that we, ethical vegans, need to take our victories where we can get them, otherwise we will burn out and decide to abandon the fight and go to live in an isolated vegan commune somewhere — which will not lead us to the vegan world we all need.
We need to recharge our batteries from any source of optimism we can find, no matter how small, and success in banning snaring in a small nation on a small island in a small continent may be the only source of power we may find in the next few months. It’s like a small candle providing some warmth on a long cold winter’s night.
My time at the Senedd was my first proper lobby job in Wales, but not my first proper lobby job for the animals elsewhere. It’s hard work, and often feels like a complete waste of time, but now and then, there is tangible abolitionist progress, and we should not waste the bust of energy these can give us as a movement.
When you are hungry for justice, any low-hanging fruit will do.
Don’t let it drop and waste away