The use of stink pits filled with rotting carcasses as bait to lure animals into snares is “barbaric” and should be banned, according to animal rights campaigners.

Ahead of a debate in the Scottish Parliament today on snares, critics of stink pits said the Scottish Government should reassess the law, which allows gamekeepers to fill pits with dead animals such as foxes and deer.

The smell attracts other animals – considered pests by estates – who are caught in snares placed around the pit.

Campaigners on the issue include the animal protection charity OneKind which is calling for the Scottish Government to consider banning stink pits altogether on ethical, animal welfare and public health grounds.

Stink pits are currently legal in Scotland and gamekeepers and land managers say that they are necessary for pest control.

Under the Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (Scotland) Regulations 2013 farmers are not permitted to bury livestock on their land, other than in designated remote areas in the Highlands and Islands.

But a special derogation allows gamekeepers to dispose of entire animal bodies, or parts of wild game, as long as this is “in accordance with good hunting practice”.

OneKind said that visitors to Scotland’s countryside do not want to be confronted with piles of decaying carcasses, surrounded by snares.

All this seems a far cry from good practice of any kind. Libby Anderson, One Kind

Libby Anderson, policy advisor for OneKind, said: “The use of stink pits to lure predators into these cruel traps demonstrates a lack of respect for both wild and domestic animals, which are all regularly found among the piles of carcasses.”

She added that OneKind has found all kinds of dead animals in stink pits including deer, foxes, domestic cats, pheasants and salmon.

The charity has also seen protected animals dumped in stink pits, including mountain hares, badgers and pink-footed geese. OneKind said they were “killed and thrown onto the pile to rot”.

Anderson added: “Quite rightly, farmers would not be permitted to dump carcasses in this way, but there is a derogation for hunters and shooters, as long as they observe ‘good hunting practice’. All this seems a far cry from good practice of any kind.”

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A debate on snares in the Scottish Parliament is to take place after First Minister’s Questions on May 18. Speakers will include Labour MSP Colin Smyth who described the practice of stink pits as “gut wrenching”.

He added: “The use of stink pits merely highlights just how barbaric snaring is. Perversely, the tightening up on the rules around snaring by the Scottish Government actually encourages the use of stink pits.”

The logistics of now having to check snares daily limits the number of snares, according to Smyth, who claimed that stink pits are increasingly being used to draw animals to a “few more easily checked sites”.

He continued: “The use of stink pits really turns people’s stomachs. To think that animals’ rotting carcasses are left as bait to encourage animals into snares is gut wrenching, yet this practice is entirely legal in Scotland in 2017.

“The time has come for the Government to get serious about the animal welfare implications of snaring – something which the Government’s recent commissioned report failed to do – and give consideration to implementing a complete ban on snaring in Scotland.”

Dead foxes near stink pit
Dead foxes next to stink pit

Christine Grahame MSP  has also raised concerns and told The Ferret that she hoped to have a debate held in the Scottish Parliament specifically on stink pits.

The full text of her motion lodged yesterday – Number: S5M-05662 – reads as follows:

“That the Parliament notes the continued use of stink pits, which are also known as middens, as part of the predator control regime on shooting estates in in the Scottish Borders and elsewhere; understands that these are pits or piles of animal carcasses that are left to decompose so that the smell will attract foxes and other predators into snares placed around them; believe that the dead animals found in these pits recently have included foxes, deer, whole salmon, pink-footed geese, pheasants, rabbits, mountain hares and domestic cats; considers that killing and dumping animals, including protected species and domestic pets, to rot and act as bait to trap other animals, is inhumane and fundamentally disrespectful to the creatures; believes that current use goes beyond good practice in many instances; notes the view that it is necessary to assess the justification for permitting their use when the disposal of farm livestock is strictly controlled, when the extent to which their use is associated with the killing of protected species and domestic animals is taken account of and when the association between the pits and intensive predator control regimes as practised on driven grouse moors is examined, and notes the calls for Scottish Government to consider the merits of banning the use of stink pits in Scotland altogether, on ethical, animal welfare and public health grounds.”

Grahame wrote recently to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham MSP, to raise her concerns about stink pits.

In her reply, Cunningham pointed out that stink pits were legal in Scotland. She wrote: “The use of stink pits are legal and as you point out, the use of farm livestock in stink pits is prohibited under the Animal By-Products (Enforcement) (Scotland) Regulations 2013. However, it is perfectly legal to use other dead animals such as rabbits, deer, foxes, hares etc and birds that have been legally killed.”

Perthshire Hunt Sabs recently published images of a pit found on an estate (our featured image). A spokesperson said: “These dumping grounds show the true face of what happens in the countryside, hundreds of animals, many needlessly killed and just dumped in these pits, tossed away like rubbish

“Not only does it show what country estates think of the wildlife that lives there, but its also a health hazard, the bacteria from all these rotting bodies cant be good for anyone nearby, livestock or other wildlife.”

Both Scottish Countryside Alliance Scotland the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association were asked to comment but had not responded at the time of writing.

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RC Letter to Christine Grahame MSP (2) (Text)