Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS)

Fenn and Springer trapsThe Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) is an attempt to establish and enforce an international standard on humaneness for traps. It’s likely to be implemented in the UK in the near future, so here is what you need to know.

[Updated 10 March 2016]

  • The agreement was brokered in 1997 to resolve a trade embargo threatened by the EU in 1991 against countries that traded fur from wild animals caught by inhumane methods. The dispute had begun with pressure inside the EU from animal rights groups protesting against fur trade, focused particularly on the use of leg-hold traps. This backfired to some extent because fur-trading nations pointed out that similar traps were commonly used in EU countries to catch the same species (e.g. muskrat, coypu) or similar species as pests, and that no humaneness standards were applied there. Because fur trading was economically important — particularly for Canada and Russia, but also for some EU countries like Denmark and Iceland — and because pest control was also critical, a compromise was thrashed out: the AIHTS. This requires signatory countries to prohibit traps for fur-bearing species that will not pass a clearly specified humaneness test.

    The AIHTS humaneness test was derived from discussions towards an international standard on humaneness in traps, a process which had been derailed by animal rights lobbyists within the technical working group, who ultimately asserted that no trap could ever be considered humane. The ISO standard salvaged from those failed discussions defined how to test traps but stopped short of defining a threshold for acceptability. An acceptability standard was defined in AIHTS. This reflects performance of the better traps available, but is nevertheless realistic.

    AIHTS applies only to a list of species commonly caught in the wild for their fur. Of these, only otter, beaver, marten, badger and stoat occur in the UK, and under current UK law only stoat may be taken or killed without special licence. Notably missing from the AIHTS list are mink and fox. This is because fur from those species is mostly taken from fur farm stock, to ensure consistency, and to use variants that are rare in the wild. Weasel is also not listed: this is because it is not caught as a furbearer.

    The AIHTS standard is not fixed, and it was anticipated that both the humaneness criteria and the list of species to which AIHTS applied would evolve in time.

    A timeline for the evolution of AIHTS and its implementation by signatory countries can be found here.

    AIHTS timeline

  • The main consequence is that there will probably be changes to the list of traps that are approved to catch stoats. From what we already know about trap performance, the Fenn Mk 4 and Mk 6 traps (and copycat designs) are unlikely to pass the AIHTS standard. These are the most commonly used tunnel traps. So the main likely consequences are:

    • Cost of replacement traps
    • Modification of tunnels to suit replacement traps
    • Cost of deployment in the field
    • Restrictions on the use of Fenn traps (and maybe Magnum traps) as ‘universal’ traps in situations where they might catch stoats. Some newly approved alternative traps (e.g. Goodnature A24) will also be approved only for a limited list of species. All this probably means that rat and squirrel control must become separate exercises using pre-baiting, appropriate baits, in more intensive campaigns focused on specific locations. Stoats and weasels can then be targeted using traps approved for them, with suitably restricted entrances to the tunnels.

    It is not yet clear what the choice of approved traps will be by July 2016, so besides the cost of replacing traps, there is considerable uncertainty about supply.

  • At this stage, we don’t know for certain. We do know that the Fenn Mk 4 and Mk 6 traps (and copycat designs) are unlikely to pass the AIHTS standard as stoat traps. Our advice is not to panic and rush into any decision. As soon as we know Defra’s intentions, we will advise accordingly.

  • The AIHTS is binding on all EU member states. Failure to implement it is likely to result in infraction proceedings brought by the EU against the UK, meaning a hefty fine. It’s not clear how compliant other EU member states are, and those that have complied (e.g. Sweden) have clearly found the process illogical and unsatisfactory. However, the stoat is not a target species in many other countries, so that problem is peculiar to the UK.  So there is some sense of ‘safety in numbers’, but Defra’s assessment is that the UK must comply.

    AIHTS does include provisions for derogation in certain circumstances, but these do not cover the circumstances in which we are placed. Specifically, there are alternatives to the use on non-compliant traps, because some traps already approved for stoat are compliant.

  • The AIHTS allowed an eight-year period for implementation, from the moment the agreement was signed in 2008. Most of this was squandered through protracted negotiations and indecision within the EU and lack of preparedness at member-state level. As far as we know, only Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and possibly Hungary are already compliant with AIHTS. See the next section for more detail about the UK specifically.

    Although the deadline for implementation is July 2016, it is not inconceivable that the UK might negotiate, or simply grant itself, extra time to facilitate changes – at present that too is very unclear.

    Incidentally, the GWCT began warning about the implications of AIHTS for predator and pest management in 1997, with an article in the Review.

  • Following completion of signatures to the Agreement in 2008, a period of five years was allowed for trap testing to take place, followed by three years for trap users to make any necessary changes to their practices. The total eight-year transition expires at the end of July 2016.

    The UK has been slow to implement AIHTS, in part because for four years after ratification the EU was apparently working towards a directive on the matter. The EU dropped that ambition in 2012, arguing that member countries should in any case be implementing the agreement in their domestic law. That still left four years before implementation had to be complete.

    In the UK, Defra is the government department responsible for regulation of spring traps (Pests Act 1954). All spring traps must be approved by Defra, although there has not previously been any published standard they must conform to for approval. In 2012, Defra stated that future new trap approvals would be granted only to traps that pass the AIHTS standard, irrespective of species. They even extended this scrutiny to fox snares, which did not fall under either the Pests Act (because a snare is not a spring trap) or AIHTS (because fox is not one of the species it covers).

    Defra finally got to grips with implementation of AIHTS in spring 2015, leaving only 15 months of the original eight years to complete trap testing, amend legislation relating to traps, inform the trap-using community of changes to trap approvals, and for the ‘industry’ (manufacturers, importers, retailers, users) to effect those changes.

  • Defra officials have outlined to ministers the various options for implementing (or not implementing) AIHTS. A public consultation is a necessary first step, but this too awaits ministerial approval. Defra told industry bodies that in the current political and economic climate, they favoured a solution that was ‘least burdensome’ for practitioners.

    Generally speaking, this government is not in favour of ‘gold-plating’ EU legislation, nor of spending money if it can be avoided! It’s clear that there is very little money available for trap-testing work. Defra has proposed that in future, those who submit new traps for approval (i.e. manufacturers/importers/retailers) will have to bear the (substantial) cost of trap testing.

  • In spring 2015, Defra held discussions with organisations (including the GWCT) associated with shooting and pest control, and with UK trap manufacturers/retailers, to clarify the options for trap testing and trap approvals.

    Defra expected to progress to a public consultation on the matter by the end of September 2015, but this has clearly been delayed and is apparently waiting on ministerial approval to proceed.

    So at present we don’t know whether the minister(s) will decide to follow or contest the (apparently unavoidable) path; the public consultation has not yet happened; we don’t know which traps will and will not meet AIHTS standard for stoats; and we don’t know what the Spring Traps Approval Orders in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will finally look like. Although the UK is for the most part already compliant with the AIHTS, it looks as though the stoat trap issue cannot now be resolved in time for the July 2016 AIHTS deadline.

    Watch this space for further news.

  • It’s useful to review the likely options, but at this stage our advice is not to rush into any panic purchase. The list of approved traps may be supplemented further by the time the AIHTS is implemented. Currently we understand that after changes, the list of traps be approved for stoat will include:

    • Koro traps
      An import from Canada. There are two models. The smaller ‘Koro Rodent Snap Trap’ has been approved to AIHTS standard for stoat in Canada. Approval for stoat in the UK will depend on current re-assessment using UK stoats, which are larger. This trap is already (March 2016) approved for rats and weasels, in blind-ended (‘stop-end’ tunnels) such that the trap is approached from its front side. However, it is not approved for grey squirrels, meaning it would not be a ‘universal’ solution for a range of predator/pest species in the way that the Fenn trap was.

      The larger ‘Koro Large Rodent Double Coil Spring Snap Trap’ is now (March 2016) approved for grey squirrels and rats, in blind-ended (‘stop-end’ tunnels) such that the trap is approached from its front side. This larger trap may not be used for stoats or weasels.

    Large and small Koro traps

    • DOC 150, 200 and 250
      Although exemplary in performance for stoats, weasels and rats, this family of traps from New Zealand has proved expensive as an import to the UK. The DOC 150 has the same dimensions as a Fenn Mk 4, but requires a tunnel as advised by the manufacturer, which includes a solid floor to allow setting, and wire mesh baffles to ensure a clean strike. All the DOC models are approved for a range of pest species.

    DOC 150 and 200

    • Goodnature A24 rat and stoat trap
      This is a novel repeating gas-powered device which depends on a scent lure to attract stoats. It was approved by Defra in 2015. Dispatched animals fall out of the trap, leaving the trap available for further captures until the gas cartridge runs out (up to 24 captures). This trap is now the ‘great white hope’ for control of (non-native) stoats and rats in New Zealand and is currently undergoing trials for effectiveness in clearing whole islands. Not yet available in the UK, but likely to be in the region of £100. Efficiency in UK field conditions is unknown.

    Goodnature A24

    • Magnum 116BMI Magnum 110, 116 and 55 traps are currently approved for stoat, but have now been re-tested for stoat to AIHTS standard, and all three models have failed. So approval of these models for stoat will presumably be withdrawn at Defra’s discretion at some time in the future. We assume that approval of these traps for other species will remain valid. The WCS tube trap has been approved to AIHTS standard for stoat in Canada. Approval for stoat in the UK will depend on re-assessment using UK stoats, which are larger. The Kania 2000 and 2500 traps are currently approved for stoat in the UK, but are not well suited to stoat control (they are mostly used for squirrel and mink control). It is unlikely that these will be re-tested to AIHTS standard unless a sponsor is found, and therefore approval for stoats will be withdrawn.

    It is not yet completely clear that approvals to use Fenn traps to catch stoats will be withdrawn, nor is it clear whether Fenn traps will still be allowed for weasel, rat, grey squirrel, mice and mink (the Mk 6 version). Defra has told us that traps judged unlikely to pass on the basis of published evidence will not be tested. Traps already approved for stoat in other countries party to the AIHTS (e.g. Canada) will not automatically be approved for the same purpose in the UK, because stoats in Europe are significantly larger than in Canada. Approval to AIHTS standard by another European country would meet requirements.

    Defra has understood and acknowledged that tunnel traps are often set to target a range of common predator and pest species, and that cost is an important consideration. All these issues would be addressed in the public consultation, of course.

  • Defra’s policy as regulator is pulled in two directions. On the one hand it is clearly illogical to apply a humaneness standard to one species, and not to other species that may be caught in the same trap, and for which the trap may actually be less humane (e.g. Fenn Mk 4 for squirrels, Mk 6 for mink). It also seems illogical that many current approvals for other species were granted in the first place without any kind of humaneness testing, even - in a few cases - in the face of contrary evidence (e.g. DOC 200 for mink). On the other hand, the government is determined not to ‘gold plate’ any legislation coming from the EU. If we curse the EU for getting us into this fix in the first place, we must also accept the government’s grudging implementation of it.

    Given the stringent economic climate, the government is also determined not to fund any more trap-testing than is necessary to implement the AIHTS. (In future, Defra proposes that the cost of testing new trap models for approval will be borne by the ‘industry’ - meaning trap manufacturers, importers, retailers and their customers.)

    The GWCT’s view is that, in the long term, we need a suite of predator/pest management tools that are effective and affordable, but also uncontroversial because they meet internationally accepted humaneness standards. We don’t think that a rushed and grudging implementation of AIHTS gets us to that position. Rather, it seems certain to create illogicalities that are hard to defend and will result in more, rather than less, controversy.

Cookie Policy

Our website uses cookies to provide you with a better online experience. If you continue to use our site without changing your browser settings, we'll assume you are happy to receive cookies. Please read our cookie policy for more information.

Do not show this message again