13 November 2023

Scottish Government Ignores The Science To Confirm Ban On Humane Cable Restraints

Only 24 hours after the GWCT and representatives of Scotland’s land management community gave evidence to the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee on the vital conservation need for the retention of HCRs under licence, Scottish Government announced it intends to implement a full ban.

Gillian Martin MSP, Minister for Energy and the Environment, confirmed in correspondence to Scottish Land & Estates that the devices would be banned as part of the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill. This follows the Welsh Government’s recent decision to prohibit the use of all forms of snares against the recommendations of land managers and in the face of scientific evidence showing the potential negative impact on endangered wildlife.

Modern Humane cable restraints (HCRs) are distinct from traditional snares in that they have been designed to address welfare concerns and avoid the capture on non-target species. In essence, they are a tethering device regularly used by GWCT scientists to catch foxes for research purposes and release them unharmed.

The devices are also used by gamekeepers and farmers to capture foxes in order to protect livestock and wildlife including rare ground-nesting birds. GWCT, Scottish Land & Estates, Scottish Gamekeepers Association and NFU Scotland all supported the outlawing of traditional snares, but proposed a rigorous licencing system that would allow the modern HCR to be used in limited situations by practitioners who had undertaken mandatory training.

However, Scottish Government has chosen to reject their proposal apparently, refusing to recognise the distinction from older snare types in spite of the fact that HCRs meet the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS).

The Government also chose to ignore evidence from practitioners that alternative control methods such as shooting would not be sufficient to replace the use of HCRs in situations where habitat and seasonal changes make their use impractical. The ban will make it much more difficult for gamekeepers, farmers and conservationists to control foxes predating on ground nesting birds and other vulnerable prey species putting them at risk of extinction.

Ross MacLeod GWCT policy Scotland who gave evidence at the recent committee hearing said:

“The most alarming aspect of this decision is the apparent indifference to the GWCT science made available to the Administration, which points to the critical role of predator control in supporting key species recovery and maintenance. Within this evidence base, we clearly showed that in some locations the use of restraints could make up as much as 80% of fox control.”

He continued:

“In Scotland, a biodiversity emergency was proclaimed via the Edinburgh Declaration in April 2019. The Scottish Government endorsed the Leaders Pledge at COP 26 in 2021 to reverse nature loss by 2030. The minister’s action is therefore all the more inexplicable in the context of the sands of time running out for recovery of so many iconic species.”

The administration has elsewhere recognised the value of an adaptive management approach. You might think this would allow the trial of strict licencing system, but it seems not. I have an awful foreboding, and no sense of satisfaction, that at some point in the near future, the land managers who have proposed a licensing solution will be saying: ‘we told you so’.”

The full evidence session at the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee can be viewed here.

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