Natural England is investigating allegations that grouse moors have unlawfully trapped wild birds on their land to maximise the number of grouse for shooting.

The habitats watchdog launched its investigation after being passed evidence of more than 50 wild bird traps located on grouse moors over the spring which the wildlife protection organisation Wild Moors had collated.

Bird trapping is not permitted on the majority of grouse moors because they fall within wild bird control exclusion or buffer zones designated by Natural England to protect fragile upland ecosystems.

Whilst individual licences can be granted where there is a clear scientific case for predator control, it is understood that very few, if any, have been given to grouse shoot operators in England.

Luke Steele, Director of Wild Moors, said:

“Wild birds are trapped and killed on grouse moors for no other reason than they compete with game bird shooting interests. Despite changes in the law prohibiting the practice to protect fragile ecosystems a number of grouse moors have continued eradicating native wild birds to increase game bird populations for the guns.

“This falls into a wider theme of grouse moors showing scant regard for wildlife protection laws. We’re calling for significant regulatory reform of grouse moors to end the wave of wildlife crime.”

All wild birds are legally protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and it is an offence under Section 5 of the Act to set any trap without a licence for the purpose of taking or killing a wild bird.

Wildlife advocates have also long believed that cage traps pose a risk to birds of prey which can inadvertently become caught and unable to escape and are even being used, in some cases, to facilitate unlawful persecution.During spring 2019 the RSPB filmed a buzzard caught and appearing to be killed in a cage trap on a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire.

Another incident took place in summer 2018 when police officers seized the remains of an owl found in a cage trap on a grouse moor in West Yorkshire.

Luke Steele adds:

“We have serious concerns about the threat cage traps pose to birds of prey, such as buzzards, goshawks and owls, which can become caught in the contraptions and unable to escape. Worryingly, there is evidence to suggest cage traps are being deliberately used for this purpose on some grouse moors as part of illegal raptor persecution.”

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Notes for editors:

  • Wild Moors campaigns to free up moorland from exploitation by grouse shooting estates for conservation. By working with society, companies and government to create change, we secure effective protection for wildlife, habitats and local communities.

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