The legal situation in Scotland

The use of multi-catch cages to control corvids is regulated by General Licences issued under section 16 of The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Separate licences are issued annually by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Individual operators do not need to apply for these licences nor have them in their possession.

These licences restrict the use of multicatch cage traps to ‘authorised persons’ (effectively landowners, occupiers or persons with their permission) who understand and comply with their conditions i.e. General Licence No. 01 is for the conservation of wild birds: Licence No. 02 is for the prevention of serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables or fruit and No. 03 is for the preservation of public health, public safety and preventing the spread of disease.

These licences can only be relied upon in circumstances where the authorised person has satisfied himself that appropriate non-lethal methods of control such as scaring or bird proofing are either ineffective or impracticable. No person convicted of wildlife crime on or after 1 January 2011 may use these licences unless admonished or fully discharged by a court order. The licences also impose a series of licence conditions on the user; these mainly relate to the welfare of decoy birds. If you follow the guidance given in this guide you should be well within the law, but the following points should be emphasised:

  1. Only operate multi-catch cage traps under the terms and conditions of each licence for the purposes specified.
  2. Check your traps at least once every day at intervals of no more than 24 hours, except in the case where unexpected severe weather prohibits. An inspection must be sufficient to determine whether there are any live or dead birds in the trap; any dead or sickly decoy birds must be immediately removed from the trap.
  3. Decoy birds must be provided with adequate food, water and shelter and a suitable perch that does not cause discomfort to the birds’ feet. Decoy birds should also have protection from the prevailing wind and rain. These provisions must be made available at all times to be compliant with all relevant animal welfare legislation, including the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.
  4. Only the following corvid species may be confined as decoys in multi-catch cages: carrion and hooded crow, jackdaw, rook and magpie. Jays may not be used as a decoy. Never use species other than permitted corvids as decoys. Remember Larsen trap legislation on permitted decoys is different (see GWCT fact sheet on Larsen trap use). Remember that raven and chough are protected species and must not be used as decoys.
  5. The General Licences name the birds which may be taken or killed by certain listed methods. Birds other than these listed species must be released unharmed immediately on being found in a cage trap.
  6. When any cage trap is not in use it must be immobilised and rendered incapable of use. Access doors must be removed from the site or securely padlocked open so that no bird can be confined.
  7. Every multi-catch cage trap used under General Licence must carry a tag or sign that gives the non-emergency number of the Scottish Police Force - 101. The tag or sign shall also carry a unique code that allows the owner to be identified by the police.
  8. Any trap used under General Licence must not be designed or used in such a way to likely cause injury or unnecessary suffering to any bird trapped.

It is important to remember that General Licences are issued for only a year at a time, and that they can be amended. It is up to the operator to be aware of the current licence conditions, and adhere to them. The current General Licences can be viewed and downloaded from the Scottish Natural Heritage website. Be aware that the 2017 General Licences contain the following warning: ‘SNH reserves the right to exclude the use of General Licences by certain persons and/or on certain areas of land where there is evidence to suggest that a wild bird or birds have either been killed, injured or taken or where there has been an attempt to do so other than in accordance with a licence, or where General Licences are being misused’.