Gamekeepers are to seek talks with police and Government over an escalation in the vandalism of legal traps by wildlife activists and the members of the public.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has reported increasing incidences of intentional damage to predator control traps and snares operated as part of their employment.
In the last two weeks it says legal Fenn traps have been vandalised, rail traps smashed, wires cut and traps left in the open air in Tayside, Perthshire, Angus, Speyside, Grampian, Tomatin and the Great Glen area.
In one incident in Angus 22 traps, approved for legal predator control by Scottish Natural Heritage, were damaged in one afternoon.
The SGA, which represents 5300 members in Scotland, believes the number of incidents is now becoming “unsustainable” and lawful businesses are being targeted.
The organisation says specific offences need to be clarified around vandalism and interference of legal traps and is seeking discussions with Scottish Government and Police Scotland.
Alex Hogg, SGA chairman said: “Members are extremely worried. The situation can’t go on like this. The biggest problem is the law, as written, and the lack of a specific offence.
“Every time damage or interference is reported, police say no crime has been committed. Yet, if a trap was interfered with by a member of the public and a non-target animal was caught in that trap, a gamekeeper could lose his general licence and charges would be brought yet the law wouldn’t touch the person committing the interference. That surely cannot be allowed to continue.
“The police have given some members explanations as to why they cannot act, which we welcome, but it seems their hands are tied as well.”
Licences to control predators are regulated by Scottish Natural Heritage and gamekeepers are trained to operate traps and snares legally, using approved equipment.
Predator control, the SGA, says, has benefited ground nesting game species and threatened birds such as the red-listed Curlew.
Mr Hogg added: “Some people might not agree with some things, and predator control might be one of those things, but that doesn’t legitimise people vandalising people’s work tools, or worse, rendering them illegal.
“If a gamekeeper’s snares are tied up or someone has smashed a boulder through a Larsen trap, that gamekeeper cannot perform his duties. It would be like a bus driver expecting to drive a bus with tyres removed.”
Under the Land Reform Act, it is illegal to enter land and commit crime.
Andy Smith, gamekeeper and SGA member provided video recordings to the police of a member of the public releasing a call bird from a Larsen trap on a farm.
He said: “If a gamekeeper or farmer failed to comply with the general licence in the operating of that trap, the licence would be withdrawn and charges brought.
“The member of the public who made the trap non-compliant, on the other hand, can walk away.
“Everyone has a responsibility to wildlife and that should mean members of the public as well.”