MEMBERS of the public who trap and cull grey squirrels could be breaking anti-cruelty laws, it has emerged.
Mike Flynn, chief superintendant at the Scottish SPCA, has warned that ordinary members of the public should steer clear of trap loans schemes which encourage untrained people to catch and dispose of squirrels.
He said using the free home-trapping kits, which are issued by a Scottish charity, could cause “unnecessary suffering” to animals, which is an offence under Scottish law.
Trap door schemes are used throughout Scotland as a means of stemming the spread of the squirrel pox virus, which is harmless to grey’s but lethal to their red counterparts.
The process involved trapping a grey squirrel and then disposing of them by using an air pistol or giving them a sharp blow to the head in a process called ‘cranial dispatch.’
Both landowners and householders are eligible for a trapping pack as part of a scheme run by the charity-funded project Saving Scottish Red Squirrels (SSRS).
But SSPCA’s Mr Flynn, has warned it is an offense to cause animals any unnecessary suffering under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.
Those caught under the act could face fines of up to £20,000 or 12 months imprisonment.
He said: “Once an animal is caught in a trap it is under control of man and therefore offered the full protection of the law,” he said.
“A trained person may be able to dispatch a squirrel in a humane manner, but we do not expect members of the public to be able to do this without causing at least some degree of suffering particularly if using the cranial dispatch method.
“However, it is also an offense to release a grey squirrel back into the wild once caught, therefore we would strongly discourage anyone from trapping such an animal in the first place.”
Since being introduced toScotland, more than two centuries ago, grey squirrels have dominated over red species, taking over much of their traditional habitats and carrying a lethal pox virus which is harmless to them but fatal to red squirrels.
Grey squirrel numbers inScotlandare controlled through a mix of professional squirrel control and by members of the public.
Red Squirrels in South Scotland (RSSS) project co-ordinator, Karen Ramoo said they rely on members of the public getting involved with trap loan schemes in order to keep numbers of grey squirrels down.
She said: “We rely very much on members of the public and local landowners.
“The project follows strict animal welfare guidelines and all those who take part in the trap loan scheme must abide by these – they are asked to sign a declaration form. Each participant is visited either by myself or a project control officer and we give full instructions and training on the setting and monitoring of traps, along with the dispatching and blood sampling of grey squirrels.
“Those involved in the project must use the recognised legal methods of dispatch which are shooting with an air pistol or cranial dispatch. Anyone who refused to abide by the above is not allowed to participate under the project.”
The Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) project run free trap-loan schemes for ordinary members of the public to help keep down numbers of grey squirrels in Scotland.
The project involves a trapping pack which contain information on risk assessment, control methods, legalities and a trapping diary.
On its website, The SSRS say: “Support with animal dispatch will be available from project officers or designated community controllers. Training will be available and provided to anyone carrying out animal dispatch on behalf of this project.”