A new code of practice on the use of snares was launched today, with a strong emphasis on animal welfare when people are considering the use of snares.
Defra has published the Code of Good Practice on the Use of Snares in Fox and Rabbit Control as part of a review of the use of snares in the England, which emphasises the importance of weighing the possible risks to the welfare of wildlife against the need to capture pest animals.
Biodiversity Minister Jim Knight said the new government code was an important step forward in improving the use of snares where it was necessary.
"This is an important step in ensuring that if snares have to be used they are used as humanely as possible," he said.
"It gives people important guidance to ensure that they only use snares where necessary; that they weigh welfare considerations against the benefits of snaring; and that when they do use snares they use them humanely and avoid harming non-target animals.
"People who choose to use snares should be aware not only of their responsibilities under the law, but of these guidelines for good practice."
The Code details the legal obligations for people using snares in England and Wales, and also includes information on alternatives available to land managers to minimise damage to game, wildlife, livestock and crops caused by rabbits and foxes.
Snares are most commonly used to restrain rabbits and foxes, but can cause welfare problems when used incorrectly. The Code of Good Practice gives practitioners important practical guidance on the use of snares.
Mr Knight said the Code of Good Practice had been developed in response to a report from the Independent Working Group on Snares, which was also published today.
The group was chaired by Dr James Kirkwood (Chief Executive/Scientific Director of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare), and was asked to seek agreement on good practice guidelines, produce a code of good practice on the use of snares, and advise the government on future activity.
It made three main recommendations:
* The endorsement of a Code of Good Practice; * Further research on the use of snares, their impact on animal welfare, and improved design; and * Legislative changes including a clarification of inspection times and the removal of animals from snares
The new Defra Code of Practice is based on the Code developed by the Independent Working Group.
The Chair of the group, James Kirkwood, said:
"This package of guidance and recommendations is very important for wildlife welfare, and I am most grateful to all the Members of the Group and to the Secretariat.
"The group has recommended that, since no current methods are ideal, Defra should encourage and be open to applications for support for novel approaches and humane methods for wildlife control."
Mr Knight said that Defra was continuing its work to develop increasingly humane and non-lethal methods of pest control, and funded research into innovative techniques to manage wildlife populations.
"Some of our current research projects include work on immuno-contraception and improving foot snares. The report's guidance and recommendations will be used to direct that research more effectively, and inform future research funding decisions," he said.
Defra is already addressing some of the proposed legislative changes through its review of the Part 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and will work with the Independent Working Group to ensure that their recommendations are reflected in the review.
Public consultations were recently carried out on a number of review proposals, including clarifying and reducing inspection time intervals and the penalties for not releasing animals on inspection. The analysis of responses to the consultation was published on 17 October.
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