Mr Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to have caught your eye. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—in case the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd), who brought this debate, is interested, I am a farmer. I also draw attention to the fact that I am chairman of the all-party group on shooting and conservation, which has an interest in this matter. I respect a lot of what the hon. Gentleman said, but I want to put my remarks into context and disagree with much of what he said.
The use of snares is an important tool in wildlife management, which benefits conservation. I was a little bit disturbed to hear the hon. Gentleman paying so little attention to species, such as curlew and lapwings, that are severely endangered—to the point of extinction in some areas—by fox predation. Therefore, it is necessary to control foxes in such situations if we want these important species to survive and thrive.
There is often no practical and effective replacement for snaring at crucial times of the year. That is particularly the case during summer and spring, because there are heavily leafed areas on trees and that is a time of year when lambs, piglets and other farmed animals are at their most vulnerable, yet at the same time, foxes are having their cubs and therefore become the biggest predators of those farmed animals. Snares are therefore an important part of fox control.
As the hon. Gentleman said, well-designed snares, used properly, are humane and effective in fox control. As he rightly pointed out, it has been illegal throughout the United Kingdom for over 20 years to use self-locking snares. DEFRA-commissioned research in 2012, which he referred to, identified how snaring can be improved through snare design and operating practices.
I want to quote the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust—the GWCT—which is widely respected for its independent research. It says:
“Foxes kill young lambs, piglets reared outdoors, and free range and domestic poultry...Foxes also prey on vulnerable wild ground-nesting birds like black grouse, partridge, lapwing, curlew and stone curlew, and on brown hare. Several of these are species of conservation concern…There are several methods to control foxes but none of them are effective in all circumstances. One method widely used for foxes is snaring. Snares are particularly effective for foxes in places and at times of the year when rifle shooting is not possible because of dense cover but when fox control may be critical for”
Indeed, the hon. Gentleman’s own colleague, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), when he was Under-Secretary of State at DEFRA, said:
“The Government consider that, where there is a need for wildlife management, the proper use of snares is one of a range of control methods. Used according to best practice, snares can be an effective and practical means of wildlife management and are needed where other forms of pest control are ineffective or impractical. In these circumstances, snares restrain rather than kill and may prove to be more humane than other methods. If snares were to be banned entirely it”
“encourage the use of more dangerous and illegal alternatives such as poisons.”—[Official Report, 28 November 2006; Vol. 453, c. 495W.]
In the time available—I accept your strictures, Mr Deputy Speaker—I will try to rebut one or two of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge. The 2012 DEFRA study set out to estimate the scale of the perceived problems. Inevitably, the resulting figures are an approximation, with considerable uncertainty attached, and I think that is where the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) got her figures from. It is important to realise that some organisations have constructed figures by extrapolating from small samples, which are unlikely to be representative of all the situations in which snares are used, or of current working practices.
For instance, the humaneness assessment in the DEFRA study involved a single operator working in one set of circumstances, while the assessment of the extent of use was made across a random sample of landholdings. If we multiply those figures, we get the sort of figure to which the hon. Lady referred, which is most unlikely to be true.
Let us look at some of the evidence. An extensive field study involving 429 fox captures showed that, given good practice, less than 1% of snare-caught foxes were injured or killed as a result. Some believe that animals held in snares may seem all right at the time of release but go on to develop life-threatening necrotic conditions—the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge referred to that—but there is no evidence that that commonly occurs. On the contrary, foxes and badgers caught in snares by scientists for radio-tagging have typically not shown any abnormal behaviour or higher mortality. In GWCT studies, some individual foxes have been recaptured in snares, with no apparent ill effect.
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