Who’d have thought that what probably looks to most people like the sort of random bit of wood and wire farmers often dump in fields, would end in a story about raptor persecution and co-operation between the RSPB Investigations Unit and the police?
This news report from Nottinghamshire proves just how important it is for all of us to recognise a ‘crow cage trap’ when we see one. ‘Crow cage traps’ litter the countryside and are especially common on grouse moors. They are used, as the name suggests, to catch corvids. A number of different traps exist: this is a ladder or letterbox type, and very simple to use. They’re often baited with a ‘call bird’, usually a corvid, which will have been trapped earlier and stuck inside this thing until the trap operator thinks it has done its job and is then killed. The decoy bird attracts the curiosity (or territorial aggression) of other corvids in the area. They will climb around the trap to explore it, find their way in through the narrow slats in the centre to get to the bird (or to food placed inside the trap), but be unable to get out again as their natural impulse to escape danger is to fly: with wings spread they can’t pass through the slats again.
Depressingly, traps like these are legal when used correctly. It’s perfectly acceptable to the government, estate owners, and shoot operators to kill some of the most intelligent birds in the world if by doing so you are ‘protecting’ pheasants or grouse which you plan to sell to shooters at a later date.
So why might the police be interested? Traps like this have to follow basic (very basic) operator and welfare guidelines. For example, all operational traps must display a tag or a sign with the telephone number of the local police station or Police Wildlife Crime Officer. All traps must have food, water, a place to shelter from bad weather or exposure, and a perch. All traps must be checked regularly – decaying or rotting corpses are a sure sign of illegal use. Non-operational traps must be secured open so that nothing is trapped accidentally. And traps must not be used to trap birds of prey (traps baited with pigeons or doves are a good sign that raptors are being illegally targetted). It’s worth noting, too, that if a bird of prey is caught in a trap like this then by law the operator MUST release it unharmed.
Of course, these traps are routinely used to catch birds of prey, and a recent high-profile example is the Goshawk which was killed while trapped in a similar type of crow trap on a Duchy of Lancaster shooting estate.
It would appear from the Notts Police press-release below that this trap was being used to trap Buzzards – which, we repeat, is illegal.
The exact location of this ‘crow trap’ isn’t given, but how blatant – and how confident that he wouldn’t be caught – to stick something up like this right next to a track that members of the public might go down? Presumably this would have been on or close to a shooting estate, and the targeted Buzzards would have been blamed for taking a few pheasant chicks. Given that the shooting industry release more than 50 million non-native pheasants into our denuded countryside every year – many of which (according to their own figures) are killed on the road or starve to death anyway – this over-reaction is not only against the law and immoral, but utterly pointless too.
While it is infuriatimg to see traps like this (used ‘legally’ or illegally), it is good to read about such valuable co-operation from the police. Wildlife crime is a crime like any other and police have a duty to respond, but they had some major problems to deal with as a tweet from the same day shows:
A local man is assisting police with their enquiries in relation to the killing of wild birds.
Nottinghamshire Police officers have worked closely with the RSPB after they were called on 12 January following concern to wildlife in the Kneeton area.
All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.
Wildlife Crime Officers from Newark and West Bridgford officers were assisted by investigators from the RSPB.
Rushcliffe Inspector Craig Berry said: “Following excellent partnership work by the police and the RSPB we have interviewed a man under caution at the police station in connection with the death of buzzards.
“The incident was called into the RSPB following a report that the birds were killed and officers are now making further enquiries.”
Wildlife crimes are often under reported and can pose some practical difficulties in the investigation, however this example demonstrates the police will seek to gather evidence and prosecute offenders.
Officers have urged anyone with any information to contact police by calling 101, the RSPB or Crimestoppers and report similar matters.Notts Police, Press-release, 17 Jan 21
If any of us see something like this trap and suspect it is being used illegally – it’s not always easy to tell, but if it has a bird of prey inside it chances are that it is – the police and the RSPB do welcome the information.
If a crime is actually taking place then call 999, otherwise call 101 and do please ask for a crime reference number so that you can follow up or check action has been taken. Alternatively, call the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555111
For more information on ‘crow traps’ please listen to a short podcast we made standing next to a trap on a grouse moor in Scotland with a League Against Cruel Sports investigator.