In spite of repeated attempts by GWCT Cymru to present clear scientific evidence to the minister, amendments to the Agriculture (Wales) Bill to allow the licensed use of Humane Cable Restraints (HCRs) to protect breeding curlew were rejected in a debate in the Welsh Parliament on 16 May.
Matt Goodall GWCT Cymru Advisor and Head of Education, said:
“Our research demonstrates the conservation benefits of predation management to many species and that the HCR plays an incredibly important role within this management. Given the scientific evidence, we are deeply concerned that the future of species such as curlew, lapwing and black grouse in Wales has been dealt a hammer blow by this decision. Curlew are forecast to become extinct as a breeding bird in Wales by 2033. It is very sobering and extremely sad to think our children and grandchildren will never witness this iconic species breeding in Wales.”
“Those unaware of the research in this area may think banning HCRs is a good thing. They may be convinced by Lesley Griffiths MS and Vikki Howells MS when they describe them as ‘so-called humane cable restraints’ and believe that code-compliant snares are not humane. But they would be missing the critical point that the term HCR differentiates them from the inhumane snares of old. World-wide the term snare is used to describe a killing device, whereas an HCR is a restraining-only, live capture device, scientifically tested and field trialled and found to surpass standards of the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards. Furthermore, the proposed amendments would only have allowed HCRs to be deployed under licence by a highly qualified practitioners working on monitored conservation projects.”
GWCT research demonstrates curlew, lapwing, golden plover, black grouse, hen harrier, red grouse, grey partridge, and brown hare, all Section 7 species under the Environment (Wales) Act, are capable of population recoveries when predation management includes HCRs. The Upland Predation Experiment demonstrated curlew increased from 15% of pairs fledging young to 51% of pairs fledging young, enough to increase the population. It is highly likely the conservation successes of that experiment would not have been achieved without the use of HCRs. The average percentage of foxes caught in such restraints as part of culling efforts in nine other successful conservation projects across the UK was 37%. These include a North Wales moor where 80% of foxes were caught by HCR resulting in 93% of curlew pairs fledging young.
This evidence shows HCRs are vital for the conservation of vulnerable species largely because there is no other method which enables fox management during the crucial bird breeding season when tall vegetation limits opportunities for shooting. And yet, Lesley Griffiths MS stated in the Senedd that “The most efficient method of fox control is the use of rifles with thermal-image scopes at night, particularly during the winter and early spring while vegetation is lower and, of course, before nesting begins” This statement and the decision by Welsh Government to ban HCRs reflects a lack of understanding of the practical complexities of both fox management and vulnerable species conservation. Under the Environment (Wales) Act and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act Welsh Ministers are meant to protect our biodiversity. Contrary to these Acts they have now put the conservation of these species in serious doubt.