Railing against poor practice

By Dr Adam Smith, GWCT Scotland Director

The increasing numbers of people who blog can be very useful in drawing our attention to the way wildlife management is sometimes carried out. A case in point has been recent attention given to ‘rail traps’.

Spring traps (regulated by the Spring Trap Approval Order (Scotland) 2011) are commonly set to take stoats, weasels and rats, to improve the conservation of gamebirds such as red grouse, grey partridge and black grouse, but also other ground nesting birds such as lapwing and curlew (1, 2).

One setting for these spring traps is on a rail (a wooden beam, pole or log) laid across a ditch; this provides a crossing point for these predatory species. To reduce the likelihood of trapping non-target species, such as pine marten, red squirrel (or even birds), the law (as above and the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981) as amended) requires that precautions to exclude non-target species must be taken.

This involves setting the spring trap in an artificial tunnel on the rail and fitting adequate ‘excluders’ (entrance restrictor) to help minimise the risk of non-target species from entering the trap. Good practice is to construct trap tunnels with solid wood or mesh walls and roof with varying approaches to excluder materials/design.

Spring Trap

The habitat location of rail traps is an important factor affecting the species which might be captured. The trap operator should assess this risk carefully as there are some areas where the risk of catching a non-target species is more likely to occur.

Well-located, maintained and suitably excluded rail traps can be an effective part of a game and wildlife conservation management plan. Get it right and these traps are an important addition to protecting species such as black grouse. Get it wrong, as appears may be the case on some moors in Scotland recently, and the hard work of keepers is easily discredited. If in doubt, contact GWCT’s Advisory Service who can help ensure trap users ‘don’t go off the rails’.

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1. Tapper, S.C., Potts, G.R., & Brockless, M.H. (1996). The effect of an experimental reduction in predation pressure on the breeding success and population density of grey partridges Perdix perdix. Journal of Applied Ecology, 33: 965-978.
2. Tapper, S. Waders on the Fringe. Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Burgate.


Rail Traps and the comments, to date.

at 12:20 on 24/01/2017 by Alec Swan.

I agree with the thoughts of Iain Semple and Stephen Mawle, and whilst not contributing much that's constructive, an observation that those who obstruct the efforts of all wildlife managers and so in turn affect a negative influence by malicious damage, which is born of ignorance, are the very same people who will demand greater access to the countryside. Those very same people will, by their actions, also have a negative effect upon the enhancement of all those species which are prone to vermin degradation, and not just game. By and large, 'keepers are a decent lot and with our without a game shooting industry, they must be considered as a huge and positive influence upon our wildlife.

Re: Rail Traps Info

at 11:56 on 19/01/2017 by Rob - GWCT

Thanks Stephen, we will certainly look into it.

Rail Traps Info

at 10:36 on 19/01/2017 by Stephen Mawle

Would it be possible for GWCT and interested partners to produce an unobtrusive branded waterproof info card informing users of the countryside about the traps legality and purpose? I have found that approx 50% of trap interference is carried out by concerned members of the public acting out of ignorance. The remainder is malicious damage. A similar card for snares would be useful.

Rail Traps (above)

at 9:37 on 19/01/2017 by Iain Semple

I totally agree with the above comments but there are people out there who on coming across a legally set trap as pictured above remove the cover or alter the excluder arrangement THEN submit photographs to discredit the good work of 'keepers. The cover, excluders and siting should be engineered to make this as difficult as possible for the "casual walker" to interfere or tamper with the trap while still allowing the operator to set, inspect and remove any captured target species.

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