A WELSH estate has denied accusations from anti-blood sports campaigners of improperly using animal snares, saying it would barely need them at all if there had been no ban on fox hunting.
The League Against Cruel Sports has accused the Old Hall, at Dolau near Llandrindod Wells, of turning a blind eye to Government guidelines on the use of snares.
But the Old Hall Shoot says the snares are legal and the only way to control a burgeoning fox population in the wake of the Government's hunting ban. The devices, illegal in Europe, are used by gamekeepers and farmers in the UK to protect lambs, or game birds such as pheasants. However, snares are only meant to be used under strict guidelines.
However a new report by the organisation says investigators looking into the Old Hall Shoot found 10 snares attached to fence lines near woodland containing game bird release pens.
They say such a practice shows flagrant disregard for the Government's Good Practice Code on their use, and is calling for a complete ban.
Cerys Roberts, LACS’ snaring campaigner said, ‘The code of conduct just doesn't work.
‘Every day we receive reports of animals, often family pets, maimed by snares. There is only one answer and that is to take our lead from Europe and ban these vile instruments of torture.’
But Old Hall farm owner Charmian Middleton insisted there was nothing illegal about the way they were using the devices, and she said far fewer would be needed if there had been no ban on hunting.
She said, ‘They've been nosing about where they shouldn't be. Obviously they've been trespassing, as no snares would be anywhere near the footpaths.
‘Any snares put down are down in accordance with the Code of Conduct.
‘They're checked twice a day by the gamekeeper and he deals with any foxes which are found.’
And Mrs Middleton said far fewer snares were needed before the ban on fox hunting was put in place nearly two years ago.
She said, ‘The trouble is that we have quite a lot of foxes. There is a forest nearby where urban foxes are often dumped, and they cause a lot of problems.
‘But since there has been a ban on hunting there's been nothing to keep the rural fox numbers down.
‘They have no natural predator, so we have to protect the lambs with snares. We'd hardly need to use them at all otherwise. The gamekeeper shoots them where he can but at least with hunting the fox is either killed instantly, or he gets away.
‘With shooting there's more chance of injuring a fox than killing it, which is seems crueller to me.’
A number of vets, wildlife rescue centres and the RSPCA have called for snares to be banned, as they often trap otters, badgers and even pet cats and dogs, as well as predators such as foxes.
Animal welfare campaigners claim that many animals suffer horrific injuries and die slow, agonising deaths.
In 2005 the Government issued a Code of Good Practice on the Use of Snares in Fox and Rabbit Control.
But, the League Against Cruel Sports said, their investigation into 68 commercial shooting estates in England, Scotland and Wales, found that 78% of those using snares were ignoring the Code. More than 200 MPs have called for a total ban on snares in the UK.
However Glynn Cook, Welsh director of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, insisted Welsh shoots were abiding by the rules on snaring.
He said, ‘Snares are perfectly legal if used correctly. There are legal snares and there are illegal snares. I can't comment on a specific case, but it's not a problem when the correct law or procedure is followed. I'm not going to say it gets broken a lot because all our members follow the code of practice.’
Anti-hunting campaigners pointed out that recent studies in the 18 months since the Hunting Act became law indicate that there has been no significant increase in wild fox numbers in England and Wales, although this is vehemently disputed by farmers and landowners, as well as hunts.
Mrs Middleton was dismissive of LACS’ concerns, saying unrepentantly: ‘The trouble is with these do-gooders is they get one pretty species they want to save, and forget that getting that species in imbalance is detrimental to other species.’