Well, I've had a reply from the RSPCA press office and, after a couple of emails to and fro, it appears that the problem in this case centres on the trap being used on council owned land. Text of the emails below.
I've not been able to check the precise details of ownership of the land, although you'd think someone living in a house was the 'occupier'. Maybe the trap was set in a communal area. In which case there's a lesson in all of this - before carrying out any sort of pest control, make quite sure that the person giving you permission has the right to give that permission.
What struck me, though, was the unequivocal statement "The RSPCA is opposed to the manufacture, sale and use of all snares and any trap which causes suffering." Presumably they're unaware that wildlife biologists studying foxes, coyotes, mountain lions, etc prefer to use snares as the most targeted, effective and humane method of capturing these animals to radio-tag and release unharmed. Such as this. And this.
If the RSPCA really want to minimise suffering, they should work with organisations such as BASC and GWCT to help devise better methods and equipment, and support the people who have to navigate the minefield of legislation while trying to do their job of wildlife management. The current knee-jerk anti response is doing no-one any favours, least of all the wildlife.
From: Rob Harris
Date: 22 July 2009 13:15:10 BDT
Subject: Magpie trap story
Apologies for the delay in replying but I wanted to get all facts
correct. Below I have tried to answer as many questions as I can.
The RSPCA is opposed to the manufacture, sale and use of all snares and
any trap which causes suffering. Even though some snares are legal and
some are not, in reality they can all inflict suffering at random on a
wide variety of animals.
Snares can cause a huge amount of pain and distress and can be fatal
and people need to be aware that they leave themselves open to
prosecution if they are using illegal traps or not setting them
correctly. Sadly our wildlife centres all too often deal with the
terrible injuries inflicted on animals that fall victim to traps and
Using a self-locking snare, failing to inspect snares that are set or
setting snares purposefully to cause injury to any animal, is a criminal
offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, and carries a maximum
penalty of a £5,000 fine or a maximum of six months imprisonment.
You asked whether we provide guidance on this issue to our inspectors.
The RSPCA trains every inspector in the legality of snares and traps.
Regarding powers of entry: an RSPCA inspector does not have the legal
right to enter private property without the owners permission unless
accompanied by a local authority or police officer. I can tell you that
in this specific incident the trap was on council- owned property, not
You will appreciate that I am unable to go into the specific details of
this case, I can however speak generally and say that the RSPCA can
issue a 'caution' as an informal way of dealing with the situation
without involving the courts, and where the individual admits
wrongdoing, and where we are satisfied that there is no likelihood of re
I would also like to inform you that we have no member of staff named
I hope this addresses most of your concerns,
RSPCA Press Officer
Thanks for the info.
You are obviously aware of the specific case I mentioned, but it
seems I've been misinformed about the name of the inspector dealing
with the case; I take it you're not able to tell who is in fact
dealing with it.
The issue here, from my readers' point of view, is that many of them
use Larsen traps for legitimate control of corvids. If RSPCA
inspectors are going to go around confiscating such traps it will
become a problem.
I'm wondering whether there was some other factor in this particular
case that made it a welfare issue rather than a question of the
legality or not of trapping magpies. Or perhaps you are implying
that, since this was council land, no-one had the right to set a trap
there anyway? Is that something you are able to clarify for me?
Yes, because it was council land, no one other than the council is
allowed to set any such traps on it.
The use of Larson traps for taking wild birds such as magpies is
covered by general licences issued by Natural England (WML07 and WML08).
These stipulate the terms and conditions of use, including the
provision of a perch, shelter, food and water for the decoy bird.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, only authorised persons are
allowed to take/kill magpies. Authorised persons are either the
owner/occupier of the land, or someone holding written permission from
I hope that clears up the issue for you.