Vigilantes destroy traps and badgers kill both the crow and the eggs you want to protect — it could make you weep, rues Soldier Palmer
A hotbed of social media controversy surrounds the use of Larsen traps. Seeing wild gamebirds beginning to pair up for the breeding season, the timing is right for me to repair my traps and make a start on the local crows. Significant pressure on Larsen trapping here in Scotland has led to a number of changes to the law, which have been difficult to follow over the last few years. There are active campaigns to ban Larsen traps altogether which, in many ways, would have been a simpler way to approach the issue. We are allowed to use traps under a system of clauses and conditions so confusing you need a master’s degree to satisfy them. (Read this advice on how to use a Larsen trap.)
I applied for a licence several years ago and was given an operator number. I was recently informed that I needed to reapply for a different one, even though I’d spent good money having the old one stamped on to my cages. The only difference is that my new number is slightly longer and harder to remember than the old one. If I wanted to use meat as a bait for crows in 2020 and 2021, I had to notify NatureScot and fill out a questionnaire. It turned out that I didn’t end up using meat as bait in either of these years, so I didn’t fill out the questionnaire. That didn’t satisfy the auditors; I was told that if I didn’t fill out the questionnaire, I would not be allowed to use a Larsen trap again. So I went online and filled out a form to which all answers were ‘not applicable’. I’m not sure if I’ll have to do the same this year, and even if I do, the goalposts never remain in the same place for long.
Sometimes you have to peg your traps to the ground so they cannot blow over, but then you find that this condition has been revoked and you’re free to work without a peg. The process seems to be the result of baffling compromises made by people who do not run traps themselves. Knowing how much easier it would be to make traps illegal once and for all, I am at least consoled by the realisation that we must have a fairy godmother in government who refuses to let the whole process vanish once and for all without an outright ban.
Running Larsen traps can be stressful, as they are closely scrutinised by an enthusiastic audience of social media activists. The slightest slip-up could result in a disaster and no one wants to be caught doing anything but the best. The problem is that ‘the best’ has become so confusing and the way standards change every year seems to suggest lawmakers are simply exploring what’s possible and practical to change. And you can rest assured that activists are encouraging each other to report all Larsen traps to the police. (Read gamekeepers are subject to abuse on a daily basis.)
This would seem like a waste of police time, but the final irony is that the law has become so confusing that it’s hard for anybody to tell whether it has been broken. Most bobbies on the beat are trained to deal with more immediate social issues and many will never have heard of Larsen traps, let alone pronounce on their legal use.
But as we swing into spring and the pheasants look to build their nests, my chief concern is less to do with vigilantes or confusing legislation. For the past few years, my traps have suffered badly from local badgers. When old brock finds a crow trapped in its cage, he’s inclined to lean in for a closer look. It doesn’t matter how well your call bird is catered for if he’s caught in his cage with a badger knocking on the door; there will only be a scattering of feathers left in the morning.
Even my best traps have buckled under the weight of badger claws. As they cost almost £100 each, the destruction of two or three Larsen traps in a season can be pretty painful and it’s doubly frustrating to realise that badgers destroy both the objective and the process of Larsen trapping. They’ll destroy the traps you bought to catch the crows, then they’ll eat the eggs you hoped to protect from the crows that you wanted to trap. It can make you want to weep.
Spring is a fine time of year for optimism and good feeling. I love to see the birds displaying and the daft pheasants jousting in the dew, but I can’t resist a growing sense that the world is going slightly mad.