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Monday, 4 July 2016

Bushcraft and the Law; Trapping Update

Fenn and Magnum trap
As bushcrafters we are often inspired and amazed by the stories of the mountain men of North America and their exploits across barren wilderness regions like the Rocky Mountains and their ability to live with little more than what they carried in their ‘possibles pouches’. What brought the mountain men to the frontier was the availability of beaver. At the time beaver skins, or ‘plews’ as the mountain men called them, were in high demand for the manufacture of hats and thousands of beaver were trapped over the years between the mid seventeen hundreds to the 1830’s when the demand for beaver hats, and the availability of beaver themselves crashed. Gone are the days though of the leg hold traps used by the mountain men and the wholesale, unregulated trapping of the mountain man era, and here in the UK we are expecting some fairly major changes in the laws that relate to trapping in the next few months.

Weasel trapped using fenn trap
In the UK we still use traps in the countryside a lot but almost exclusively for the purpose of pest control, to reduce damage to crops, or prevent the predation of game birds. We already have whole rafts of legislation which controls these activities but we are expecting more to come into force which may drastically change the way trapping is carried out in the UK. I discussed the use of snares and the banning of gin traps in my previous Trapping and the Law article in issue 56 and while I won’t cover gin traps again as they haven’t been legal since 1958 and nothing has, or will, change that now. However there has been a slight change in guidelines regarding snares in Wales and I’ll cover that first.

The breakaway link on a snare approved
 by the new
Welsh Government ‘Code of Best
 practice on the
 use of Snares in Fox Control’
As well as the stops and swivels that a commercially purchased snare would have the guideless for use of fox snares in Wales now demand a ‘break-away’ a weaker link built in to the snare near it’s eye which allows the automatic release of larger, stronger non-target species if they are accidentally caught. This new guidance on snares is specific to Wales and comes from the Welsh Governments Code of Best practice on the use of Snares in Fox Control.  

Moving on to spring traps, there have been developments over the last few years which may have a drastic impact on the types of traps we can use here in the UK in the very near future.
In 1991 a proposed EU embargo on furs trapped in countries which allowed ‘inhumane methods’ particularly the use of leg-hold traps,  inspired the development of the ‘Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards’ (AIHTS). It took several years to finalise the conditions of AIHTS which was finished in 1997. It does specifically apply to animas trapped for their fur though: In the UK most recognised fur bearing animals are already protected; marten, beaver, badger and otter and couldn’t be trapped or harmed regardless of the ‘humaneness’ of the method employed. Mink and fox are both regularly used for fur but this fur is normally sourced from farms rather than wild animals and so these animals are not covered by AIHTS. The one animal specifically mentioned that is still regularly trapped in the UK is the stoat. In other countries it is trapped as a fur bearing animal  because of it’s desirable white winter fur, when it’s in it’s white coat it is known as ‘ermin’. Ermin are rarely seen in England or Wales as the climate does not demand their coat change for camouflage. It’s the fact that stoats appear on the list of species covered by AIHTS that spells potential change of trapping in the UK. In 1998 the EU committed to following AIHTS standards and a decade later in 2008 implementation of AIHTS began in all signatory countries after Russia agreed to it’s guidelines. After the 2008 implementation five years were allowed for testing and certification of traps with a further three years allowed for prohibition of traps which did not meet the new standards. That eight years brings us to July 2016 and the UK has been a bit behind in testing and implementing the use of approved traps.

DOC 200 trap approved for use
on grey squirrels, stoats, rats,
 weasel and mink
Several traps were added to the ‘Spring trap approval order’ in 2007 at the request of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) in anticipation of the AIHTS standards being adopted, the DOC (Department of Conservation) range of traps from New Zealand were approved for use based on the fact that they had passed AIHTS standards for stoats in tests carried out in New Zealand.

Since then other traps have also been approved including the koro trap (added to the spring trap approval order in March 2016) which has already passed AIHTS tests in Canada. 

The main change in terms of the function of the traps is that rather than killing by a blow to the body, with the intention of breaking the animals spine causing death within 300 seconds, the trap must kill by a blow to the head and cause death within 45 seconds. These traps must all still be set in a tunnel as dictated by the specific conditions of the spring trap approval order  for example the DOC trap “must be set in an artificial tunnel constructed to the design specified by the Department of Conservation.”

A DOC 200 in it’s Department of Conservation designed tunnel showing how a target species can only enter the trap head first allowing for a clean kill

A KORO ‘Large Rodent Double Coil
Spring Snap Trap
The adoption of AIHTS standards will certainly mean that traps which have been commonly used for the control of stoats will no longer be permitted for that purpose in the UK such as the Fenn traps and Magnum traps which have already been found not to meet AIHTS standards in tests carried out in Canada and New Zealand. While the change may be as simple as prohibiting the use of these traps on stoats specifically it will likely have a greater impact as it will be almost impossible restrict access by a stoat to, for example, a fenn mark IV set for a rabbit. This may well mean that as of July 2016 fenn and magnum traps are no longer legal for use in the UK at all. 

Doubtless trapping legislation will change again in the future and traps will continue to be designed to meet future conditions of ‘humaneness’ as well as to make them more effective and efficient, we have already seen a gas powered trap in New Zealand which can automatically re-set it ‘self 24 times before it needs any attention and we are bound to see more innovation like this in the future. 

For the bushcrafter this is all fascinating, although we may prefer the simplicity of a Paiute deadfall or twitch up snare it is important that we are aware of the legislation that governs something that is a bushcraft skill.


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