A report by the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics has concluded that predator control on Scottish grouse moors in "uncontrollable", saying that there is "no moral alternative" to making all current methods illegal.
Land managed for Red Grouse shooting relies on the burning of moorland and controlling the number of predators in the area through trapping, snaring and poisoning. These practices maintain an artificially high number of grouse for the shooting season.
Predator control is a routine part of management on Scottish moors to raise Red Grouse numbers above natural levels (Ian Dickey).
It has been estimated that 260,000 animals are killed in Scotland every year as part of predator control measures, including foxes, weasels, rats and corvids. A report commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports found that 39% of trapped animals are not the intended target and can include birds of prey and mammals such as Pine Marten, which are protected by law.
The UK is a signatory to the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards, which judges traps to be 'sufficient' and 'efficient' if the animals are killed within five minutes. However, inspection is difficult on private estates and the authors of the report argue that "the animals suffer an appalling range of injuries that would not be acceptable in any other context."
The authors said "the illegal trapping of raptors indicates that there is limited compliance with the current legislation."
The Scottish government plans to address concerns on animal welfare and killing of protected species by licensing the use of traps, banning glue traps entirely and giving powers of inspection to the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA).
However, the authors of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics report say that licensing the killing of animals on Scottish moors only serves to "ingrain" and "institutionalise the suffering and death of thousands of animals a year."
They concluded that there is no way of controlling animal control, with poisons and traps easy to find for sale online, and that there is no moral option besides making all control practices illegal. The report calls for new legislation in Scotland to "lead the way" in protecting all animals and recognising their sentience.
Javanaud K, Linzey C, and Linzey A. 2023. Killing to Kill: An Ethical Assessment of "Predator Control" on Scottish Moors. Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.