Spring-loaded traps set on poles or perches (ie ‘pole traps‘) were long favoured by gamekeepers to trap birds of prey (and small versions have also been used in the past to trap Kingfishers!).
Many species of bird of prey – from Buzzards to Goshawks – use an elevated perch as a lookout when hunting: fixed by a short length of chain and sometimes disguised with moss or vegetation, the ‘pole trap’ was effective and widely-used. However pole traps are also cruel and indiscriminate. and they have long been banned.
Using a spring-loaded trap to crush a bird’s legs and allowing it to hang upside down in extreme pain until it died or was killed became illegal in 1904 (well over a 100 years ago) when legislation was enacted that banned the setting of any spring trap in ‘an elevated position’ with the intention of catching birds.
More than fifty years later, it became an offence in England and Wales to catch any animal with any form of spring trap other than one approved by an Order of the Secretary of State and listed in statutes (Spring Trap Approval Orders). In Scotland the use of spring traps is legislated by the Spring Traps Approval (Scotland) Order 2011.
There are no approved Spring Traps for catching birds, and it is illegal to use any spring trap to catch birds. additionally, all forms of leg-hold traps are prohibited within the European Union by Council Regulation (EEC) 3254/91.
Gin and Fenn traps
It is always illegal to place a spring trap on a pole. However while that is clear, there is some confusion surrounding the names given to the type of spring trap placed on poles (ie used in ‘pole traps’) or used elsewhere, which may make reporting such a trap to the relevant authorities more difficult.
In broad terms, there are just two types of spring trap: gin traps and Fenn traps.
- Gin traps: A gin trap is a mechanical trap designed to catch an animal (or a human) by the leg/s using spring operated jaws: the jaws typically come with serrated teeth, and close with great force when an animal or bird steps or lands on a central (or treadle) plate.
Using a gin trap is strictly illegal and they are no longer manufactured in the UK.
NB: While it is illegal to use a gin trap or to possess one for an unlawful purpose, it is legal to own, collect, buy or sell them as items of historical importance, antiques or curiosities.
- Fenn traps: Named after the company that first manufactured them, Fenn traps are considered humane and are approved for use in the UK and are legal when used properly. Most work by breaking an animal’s back, like a mouse trap.
The name has become somewhat generic and similar ‘clones’ have been approved for use and are usually referred to as Fenn traps as well. Whatever the version used, ‘Fenn traps’ must not be used in the open. They can be eg “used only for the purpose of killing or taking grey squirrels, stoats, weasels, rats, mice and other small ground vermin (except for those species listed in Schedules 5 and 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) and set in natural or artificial tunnels, which are, in either case, suitable for the purpose.” (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1995/)
Placing an otherwise approved Fenn trap on a pole or perch is always a crime. The image at the top of the page shows a Fenn trap being used illegally (copyright RSPB).
Despite it being illegal for over a century, spring traps are still being placed on poles or perches to kill birds of prey – almost always on shooting estates and always illegally.
As Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, has said: “If misused spring traps are the bird equivalent of landmines, totally indiscriminate and lethal.”
Shortly before this page was first written a female Goshawk was found dead with two broken legs on the Chatsworth Estate in Derbyshire’s Peak District, and in 2013, following a tip-off by the League Against Cruel Sports, gamekeeper Ryan Waite was filmed by the RSPB setting a ‘pole trap’ on the Swinton Estate in North Yorkshire (photo above, copyright RSPB).
On 17th February 2015 a two-day trial at Scarborough Magistrates concluded with the conviction of game farm owner Michael Wood, who was found guilty of permitting a pole trap to be set by his staff last June.
Let’s help tackle the use of Pole Traps
Setting any spring trap in an elevated position to catch birds is illegal.
There are no exceptions whatsoever, and this applies throughout the European Union.
If you find a pole trap and it is safe to do so:
- Note the location of the trap as accurately as possible, preferably using a grid reference (free smartphone apps are widely available).
- Make a note of the date and time and take photographs or video of the scene using a mobile phone or camera etc (or make as accurate a sketch as possible).
- Take wide angle photographs which include any landmarks (a tree, a distinctive fenceline, a hill) that might help officers relocate the crime scene. Imagine we were trying to find the same site again – what information might we need?
- Photograph any vehicle registration numbers that are or might be related to the incident. Even if we’re not sure whether the vehicle is involved or not it is legal to record a registration number if we suspect that the vehicle has been or may be used in a crime. The number may well be useful to the authorities in the future and help build up a more complete picture of eg a serial offender’s movements.
- If you see someone committing a crime related to use of a spring trap – and if it is safe to do so – take as many photographs as you can. Recording the offender’s face is important of course, but their clothing, the bags they’re carrying, the equipment they’re using are all important too. Do NOT try to get too close – taking some long-distance images is better than having a camera smashed or being attacked and hurt.
Remember, spring-loaded traps are powerful and dangerous. A large trap can snap an eagle’s legs and will easily break your fingers if they’re caught in it.
If you decide to disarm a set trap (which can be done legally as pole traps are illegal and disarming one may prevent a crime taking place), take a photo of it first (which could be used in evidence) then trip it using something solid and long enough so that your hand is well out of the way – note that there is so much energy released when a trap shuts that they ‘leap’ which can be very disconcerting! We’ve posted images of a small spring trap being triggered on our Flickr site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/122886568@N08/14094742089/
- Using a pole trap is a crime. If you find a pole trap call 999 and ask to speak to a wildlife crime officer. Give details as requested, and ask for a crime reference number. If you prefer you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Additionally (or, if you prefer):
- UK wide – contact the RSPB and ask to speak to an Investigations Officer
- England and Wales – RSPCA Cruelty line 0300 1234 999
- Scotland – Scottish SPCA Animal Helpline 03000 999 999
- Northern Ireland – USPCA Animal Information Line 028 3025 1000, caller ID required
Page updated February 2015.
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