RSPB Scotland has appealed for information following the discovery of illegally-set spring traps in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. The conservation organisation has commended the actions of two members of the public who alerted it to a distressed bird caught in a trap they came across while out walking but is disappointed that, as with many wildlife crimes, the perpetrators are yet to be identified.
While walking down the northern slopes of Geallaig Hill, a few miles north west of Ballater, on 27th June 2016 two members of the public saw a common gull floundering on the ground. As they approached the distressed bird, they saw that it had been caught by the legs in two traps, later identified as illegally-set spring traps.
These traps were hidden beside a dead rabbit that had been used as bait. The gull appeared to them to be severely injured and was bleeding profusely. The walkers contacted the RSPB Scotland Investigations team, and the incident was immediately reported to the Scottish SPCA and Police Scotland.
A Scottish SPCA inspector quickly attended the scene, and having carefully released the gull, found that it had two broken legs. These injuries were so extensive that the bird had to be euthanized.
A Scottish SPCA spokesman said: "It was only by sheer luck that these traps, well away from normal public access, were found by the witnesses, and it is to their credit that this was reported quickly to allow the gull's suffering to be brought to an end."
A follow-up search of the area a few days later, carried out by Wildlife Crime Officers from Police Scotland, assisted by investigations staff from the Scottish SPCA and RSPB Scotland found no further victims of these traps. However, clear evidence was found that eight similar traps had been deployed, attached to stakes and baited with dead rabbits, in a line stretching two hundred metres across the moor. It was also evident that these traps had been removed very recently. Nearby, three dead common gull chicks, close to fledging age, were found.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland's Head of Investigations commented: "It is likely that these common gull chicks were dependent on the adult found in the trap, and that they had subsequently starved to death."
Police Scotland officers later spoke to a number of people involved in the management of the land on which the traps were found, but the identity of who had set the traps could not be established.
Ian Thomson continued: "The deployment of these illegal traps has resulted in the killing of protected birds, with other specially protected species such as golden eagles, red kites or hen harriers also potentially at serious risk from this indiscriminate activity. The fact that this occurred within the Cairngorms National Park, an area that should be a showcase for the best of Scotland's wildlife, makes this all the more appalling."
"It is disappointing that the perpetrator of these offences has not been identified, as is often the case with wildlife crimes. We thank the two members of the public for their quick thinking in contacting us. We hope that this appeal to the public will yield more information to bring those responsible for this appalling crime to justice."
"If anyone has any information that may assist in establishing the perpetrators of these crimes, RSPB Scotland is encouraging them to contact Police Scotland by dialling 101 or the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999."
Spring traps are legally used by gamekeepers to target stoats and weasels, when the traps are set in a tunnel with a restricted entrance to minimise the threat to non-target species. Traps of this type are not permitted to be set in the open where there is a risk to non target species.
A petition by the Scottish Raptor Study Groups, and supported by RSPB Scotland, is calling for a state regulated licensing system for gamebird hunting in Scotland is currently live on the Scottish Parliament website: https://www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01615
SSPCA's powers under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act allow its inspectors to search an area of land if there is a suspicion that an animal or bird is suffering. Police Scotland has the authority to undertake searches of land to look for evidence of offences committed contrary to the Wildlife and Countryside Act.