Under newly made Spring Traps Approval Orders, the long-awaited Goodnature A18 Grey Squirrel Trap became an approved trap in England and Scotland from 1 January 2019 and was available for sale in the UK from that date.
Trapping and shooting are currently the only lawful means of grey squirrel control. Trapping is the more efficient of the two (simply because traps work without an attendant human), but the effort involved in checking traps is costly, tedious and discouraging. The Goodnature trap promises to reduce that workload drastically.
Already we are being asked almost daily for an opinion of the A18, and the simple answer is that we haven’t tried it yet. But here is a rehearsal of what we do and don’t know at this stage.
What is it?
A Goodnature trap does not match any familiar notion of a trap. It isn’t a metal contraption with springs – rather the visible exterior is tough plastic, and its hidden mechanism is powered not by springs but by the force of compressed gas (carbon dioxide) from a small screw-in cartridge. Like the Kania, the closed top end houses bait or lure. The animal has only to insert its head from the open bottom end of the trap, and in trying to reach the bait from inside the trap, pushes aside a fine wire trigger. This causes a captive piston about as thick as your little finger to strike the back of the animal’s head, powered by the compressed gas. The result is a near-instantaneous death.
And here all similarities with other traps end: the piston retracts, the dead animal drops out of the trap, and gas pressure from the reservoir resets the mechanism ready for the next squirrel. As the name suggests, the A18 will kill up to 18 times before a new gas cartridge is needed, and the lure is formulated to be long-life too.
The A18 is intended to be fastened prominently to a tree at head height. In that sense, it’s comparable with the Kania squirrel trap, but the self-clearing and self-resetting properties imply much less effort to check and maintain traps, compared with any conventional spring trap or live trap. With Goodnature traps, you need to check the trap only to replace the gas cylinder and lure, and with experience you can probably judge quite well how frequent that needs to be.
It is expected that, in most circumstances, dead animals will quickly be removed by scavengers. For this reason, a ‘strike counter’ attachment comes with the trap to keep count of how many times the trap has been triggered. This guides the operator as to when to replace the gas cylinder, even when he hasn’t seen any bodies.
The A18 is a very well designed and engineered item. Indeed, the Goodnature company has sought to build a knowledgeable, professional brand image. This does involve the trap having a bright orange and black livery, which may not suit situations with easy public access, but is an advantage if you forget exactly where each trap is. Perhaps it will also accelerate discovery by squirrels – but nothing is known about this.
The A18 is being sold with everything you need to operate it for six months for a penny short of £160. It looks as though a ‘Replenishment Pack’ of consumables (lure paste, gas cylinders) will cost around £20/year per trap. The importer is www.goodnaturetraps.co.uk.
Is it any good?
It’s humane, requires less maintenance by the user and promises more efficient use of manpower compared with more conventional traps. It’s claimed to be “the world’s most advanced pest control technology”. Those are great virtues, but it’s also a very expensive trap. Is it worth the money? Honestly, we don’t know: we are all entering a period of discovery. The trap is manufactured in New Zealand, where there are no grey squirrels, and until now it has not been lawful to use them in the UK. So there have been no field trials yet, and the potential of Goodnature A18s to reduce squirrel density is unknown. Only time and experience will tell.
On first principles, there are potentially both pros and cons. The A18 differs from conventional multi-species tunnel traps, as used by gamekeepers since the 1950s, in that it uses a food lure (bait), so it is very much a dedicated squirrel trap. It also differs from established squirrel control practice with baited live-traps, where it’s customary to use maize as a bait, and to pre-bait with a scatter of maize on bare soil, creating a visual cue. The Goodnature is tree-mounted, so a scatter of bait is not possible: the Goodnature’s lure is necessarily an olfactory attractant rather than a visual one. On the other hand, the trap itself is eye-catching, and grey squirrels are famously bold explorers. So, the jury is out until we have built up some community experience.
Things that need to be figured out
Non-targets are high on our list. This is really important, because the Goodnature trap is promoted as a “constant control system – one that suppresses the existing squirrel population and is always available to manage the inevitable reinvasion”. The user is advised: “Rather than move your traps, it is better to add to the trapping network and increase your pest-free area”. With this strategy, any risk to non-target species is going to be more or less permanent.
The manufacturer’s instructions state that the trap is to be fixed to a tree at a height of 1.5m. The entrance aperture is 5.4cm, which is smaller than most current trap tunnels, and the trigger is about 7cm up inside the entrance. This should avoid animals that don’t climb or fly and aren’t interested in the bait (or in the cavity itself), or are too large to fit into the entrance. Clearly, these traps should not be used in areas with red squirrels or pine martens, but we’d like to be reassured by experience that woodland bird species like woodpeckers, nuthatches, tree-creepers, goldcrests and tits are not at significant risk.
Conditions of use differ between the devolved administrations. This is peculiar, because at this stage there is no evidence of risk to non-target species that occur, for example, in Scotland but not in England. It’s hard to understand why there isn’t agreement over what is required and how best to legislate for it, but we are stuck with these differences.
The Spring Traps Approval Order (England) 2018 states that the A18 “must be so placed that it can only be entered by way of an artificial tunnel which is suitable for the purpose”. The interpretation of this is something for the courts to argue. Our understanding from Defra about their intention was that where there are no non-target concerns, they considered the integral entrance shroud of the trap would be “suitable for the purpose”: you would only have to devise any additional structure if there was concern for other species. This is similar to the conditions of use for more familiar tunnel traps.
So in England any provisions the operator makes to exclude non-targets are discretionary, which allows the trap to be used unencumbered where there is no non-target concern. However, Defra’s intentions in drafting the Order, and later interpretation in law courts of what the text actually says, are quite separate things, and this uncertainty is a real concern. Be sure you can explain your decisions rationally in court if required.
In Scotland, the conditions of use are much more prescriptive. The A18 must either be set within another (natural or artificial) structure that “minimises” the risk of non-target injury “while not compromising” its effectiveness to kill squirrels (or rats); or else it must be set at least 30cm off the ground (which seems irrelevant, as the manufacture advises 1.5m) and equipped with an additional structure which extends the entrance by at least 7cm and minimises the risk to non-targets without unduly compromising effectiveness for squirrels (see Spring Traps Approval (Scotland) Amendment Order 2018 itself for the precise wording).
Although this more prescriptive approach spells out what the operator must do, it also reduces flexibility. Intuitively one suspects that any additional structure must reduce the effectiveness of the trap. In the absence of field evidence of a non-target problem, it’s not clear why it is necessary to impose this condition. And actually there is uncertainty in Scotland too about how a court of law would assess the balance of “minimising” non-target risks while “not compromising” target effectiveness.
Wales and Northern Ireland
At the present date (7 January 2019) we don’t yet know what the approval conditions will be in Wales and Northern Ireland.
The human factor
It’s important to remember that when the gas cartridge has been removed, the mechanism retains a reservoir of gas capable of one more strike. Like any truly humane trap for a squirrel-sized animal, the A18 can do significant damage to fingers. Never put your fingers inside from the bottom end!
Where there is public access nearby, we would be concerned about inquisitive humans, because the traps are an eye-catching orange and black. A coat of spray paint would solve this, of course, but as mentioned above, it’s possible that the visibility of the trap aids its discovery by squirrels. In those circumstances, we suggest fixing the trap out of reach to avoid interference.
Use the correct model of Goodnature trap!
The Goodnature A18 Grey Squirrel Trap differs significantly from the Goodnature A24 Stoat and Rat Trap, which has been approved for those species in England (only) since 2015. The A18 has a larger entrance, altered trigger position and more power. Because of that power requirement, the A18 delivers only 18 strikes, compared with 24 from the A24. Both are approved for rats.
Use ONLY the A18 to target grey squirrels. Mounting the trap at 1.5m or greater above ground will (in our view) clearly signal your intentions in this respect. Use of the A24 to catch squirrels is illegal and is likely to result in inhumane injuries.
Other unanswered questions
How many traps do I need?
Goodnature itself gives no guidance on this. The Forestry Commission’s recommendation for single-catch live traps is one per hectare, for multi-catch traps one per two hectares. One might perhaps expect to get away with a lower density of Goodnature A18s, given that they are repeating traps, but everything depends on how efficiently the squirrels discover them. This simply can’t be answered just yet.
Can I use baits other than the manufacturer’s squirrel lure?
Yes. It seems inevitable that folk will start experimenting with alternatives, and that will add to community knowledge. Note that the Goodnature lure is intended for long-life, i.e. formulated to retain its effectiveness over a relatively long period. Any bait that dries up or goes ‘off’ faster will require more frequent trap rounds to refresh the bait.