I’VE been to the scene of a wildlife crime and I’ll never forget it. It was in a small wood by the side of a road in central Scotland. A deep, dark hole had been dug in the ground and attached to one of the trees was a ragged piece of rope. The rope would have been used to tie up a dog. The hole in the ground was used to dig out a badger. The dog and the badger would then have been made to fight each other. I felt sick at the thought of it, and still do.

But there was worse to come. The investigators who took me to that badger sett told me about the other crimes that had been uncovered around the same time. An illegal bird trap in Stirlingshire. A buzzard killed in Lanarkshire. The mysterious disappearance of a hen harrier in southern Scotland. And an illegal snare near Kirkcaldy. And those were just the offences they knew about. There’s a tidal wave of wildlife crime and cruelty to animals, the investigators told me; it’s out of control.

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Which makes this week’s comments by the First Minister at Holyrood so disappointing. Nicola Sturgeon was asked whether the use of snares to trap animals should be banned and this is what she said: Scotland leads the way on regulating snares; we have the strongest laws in the UK; people have to be trained to use them and every snare has to carry a tag that identifies the user; she also said the law was kept under constant review and she would not hesitate to take action if there was evidence that the law wasn’t working.

But how much more evidence do you need First Minister? Badgers. Cats. Deer. Dogs. Hedgehogs. Sheep. Swans. And the capercaillie for God’s sake. Not to mention the “pests” the snares are aimed at, such as foxes. They’ve all been trapped by snares and suffered agonising deaths and it seems to me that the legal status of the snare makes no difference; neither does the fact that the law is slightly worse in the rest of the UK. Pain and suffering is pain and suffering whether it’s legal or illegal and wherever it happens.

So, could we go back to basics please and talk about what snares are actually for and what they do? For a start, they are almost always laid for the most trivial of reasons: to protect gamebirds so they can be killed on shooting estates.

Secondly, they don’t work. The evidence is that even when a large number of foxes are caught by snares, other foxes quickly move into the area. So not only are snares cruel, they’re crap at their job.

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Thirdly, they cause terrible suffering. When an animal is caught, it will struggle to escape, sometimes for hours or days; some animals will try to gnaw through the wire causing further injury; many will die slow deaths. As I said, the snares also often catch animals they’re not aimed at, including protected species such as otters and badgers.

All of this should indicate an outright ban, and yet the law in Scotland seeks to manage snares instead. As the First Minister said, anyone using a legal snare has to undergo training; after that, they will get a personal number and every snare they set must carry that number. There are also rules about how big the traps can be and the law states that they be must be inspected once a day.

The problems with this system would seem pretty obvious though. Firstly, even if someone follows the law, animals can still be caught and suffer in snares for prolonged periods. A legalised system of snaring also gives apparent respectability to a practice that doesn’t deserve it, especially when there are humane alternatives available, such as cage traps. And in the absence of effective policing and enforcement, illegal snares still proliferate.

It is in the face of all of this that we should examine Nicola Sturgeon’s response to the question she was asked about snares. She said people are trained to use them. Who cares: animals are suffering. She said that every snare has to be tagged so the user can be identified. Who cares: animals are suffering. And she said that the laws in Scotland aren’t as bad as the laws in England. Again, who cares: animals are suffering.

The First Minister’s response also highlights the basic problem here: we have a system that seeks to regulate a device that is inherently cruel. More fundamentally, the Scottish Government still appears to be unwilling to tackle the problem that underlies snares: the shooting industry, which doesn’t bode well for their review of grouse moors which is due to be published any day now.

The answer, inspired by logic and compassion, is an outright ban. The attempts to regulate the use of snares have not succeeded in reducing the pain they cause. But a means of controlling animals that inflicts unnecessary pain and suffering has no place in our society anyway. I do not care that some people are inflicting the cruelty legally. And I do not care whether England is worse. I only care that suffering is being inflicted on animals for no good reason.