AIHTS, Spring Traps & Stoats – advice on use of non-AIHTS traps for other approved species

This is opinion and NOT legal advice. 

As most of you know,  as from 1st April 2020, the stoat has been removed as an approved species on most of the commonly used UK  spring traps approved on the Spring Trap Approval Orders (STAO) of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  This follows the adoption of the AIHTS legislation and the approval of new traps which do conform.  There is a bit more about that at the end of this article.

This means that if you are deliberately trying to catch stoats in a spring trap, you MUST use one of the AIHTS approved traps.  It doesn’t matter if you’re targeting other small mammals as well as stoats, the same rule applies.

What is less clear is where you stand if you’re NOT after stoats at all and continue to use non-AIHTS traps to catch species for which the traps are still approved on the STAO.  With stoats being so small it is impossible to physically exclude them from traps set even for rats, let alone squirrels, mink or rabbits.  The law on an accidental stoat catch is unclear and interpretations vary quite a bit – some a lot more cautious than others.  Unless and until we get a test case no one really can say for certain.  What is certain is that if any offence were found to have been committed, as the operator of the trap it would be you who were committing it.

The STAO does make some allowance for accidental catches in paragraph 2 recognising that risks to non-target species should be minimised “so far as is practicable without unreasonably compromising its use for killing or taking target species...”  but this should be balanced with the likelihood of such a thing happening.

In my opinion the decision to use a non-AIHTS spring trap comes down to a question of risk – how likely is it that your non-AIHTS traps is going to catch a stoat.  This will depend on a number of factors, such how likely it is that stoats are present, how likely it is that a trap in a specific configuration and location will interest a stoat and how likely it is that they will get to and enter the trap.

Let me give you a couple of examples.  A trap in a ground tunnel, next to a chicken house in an area known to have a high stoat population would in my view be quite likely to catch a stoat.  The same trap in a wooden box, in a loft in a house in an urban city would in my view be very unlikely to catch a stoat.

The long and the short of it is that I would advise anyone who continues to use traditional spring traps which do not have AIHTS approval to carry out and document a Risk Assessment for the traps they set.

  1. Do this properly – document it, date it, store it, review it and update it.
  2. Do this at the right level – not all your traps will be the same so assess them either individually or in sensible groups of traps with similar risk profiles.
  3. Keep a record of your catches of target species and review your Risk Assessment in light of them.
  4. You might review your risks based on research which emerges, catches in other traps in your area or reported sighting of stoats or stoat attacks in areas where there were none before.
  5. Update your risk assessment with any changes you have made to your trapping regime which you have made as a result of new information – demonstrate you are taking this seriously.

If you do end up accidentally catching a stoat, a thorough and well documented risk assessment may be your best defence.

These are some risks which you might want to think about, but there are probably others :

Risk Factor Explanation
The frequency and distribution of stoats in the wider area How often have stoats been seen, trapped or taken by other means in your target area?  Are there any localised hot spots or stoat-free areas?
Trapping Location What is the specific trap location and how likely are stoats to be in the area? Is there anything there which will attract them ?
Trap Placement Where are you placing the trap?   On the ground,  off ground for example on a tree or perhaps on a mink raft in the middle of a pond.
Tunnel Configuration Is this a run through tunnel ?  A blind baited set ? A top entry box ?
Bait Used Is any bait likely to attract a stoat ? Meat based baits are more likely to attract stoats than non-meat baits.
Previous stoat & non-stoat catch history How often has this trap caught already this season ?  how recently and was it a stoat bait species ?  Can you move it ?
Trapping duration & seasonality Are traps in place longer than they need to be ?

It is a frustration to us at Fourteenacre that we cannot provide more definitive advice, something which we have always sought to do.    Unfortunately at the present time you’ll have to make your own judgement.

What is AIHTS ?

AIHTS is an International agreement, which the UK has signed up to, and which is effective in the UK from April 1st 2020.  It came about originally through restrictions placed on EU imports of fur from the USA, Canada and Russia. The agreement lists 19 fur bearing species and has specific timed ‘unconsciousness and insensibility’ tests which a trap must meet in order to comply with the standard. All this would have little impact on vermin control in the UK, if it wasn’t for the stoat. In the fur industry the stoat is trapped for its pelt, as ‘ermine’ rather than as ‘vermin’, which means it has found its way onto the AIHTS list. As a result any trap which is still approved for stoat in the UK by the AIHTS implementation date must meet the AIHTS tests.

What is the test ?
The details of the AIHTS standards can be found here and they cover a range of species. Almost all are either not native to the UK or have no spring trap approved for use on them anyway. The test for kill traps is that an animal must be ‘dead’ within a certain time limit. This is defined as ‘loss of corneal and palpebral reflexes’ and the time for stoats is 45 seconds.  The default time for any unlisted species is 300 seconds and future trap approval will rely on this standard as a minimum.


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