Spring Trap Approval Order

The term ‘Spring Trap’ is officially used to describe any type of killing trap which is powered by a spring, from the everyday mousetrap to the powerful Kania 2000. The rules governing use of spring traps are actually pretty straightforward although typically, the regulations involve several layers of legislation to get there.  The Pests Act 1954 makes it is an offence to use, (or permit the use of), any spring trap, other than an approved trap.  It also makes it an offence to use an approved trap in an unapproved way.  The Small Ground Vermin Traps Order 1958 then goes on to exempt (i) spring traps known as break-back traps for destruction of rats and mice and (ii) spring traps of a kind commonly used for catching moles in their runs.

So what are these approved traps and approved ways?  The Spring Traps Approval Order (STAO) was first introduced in 1957 and has been updated several times since then.  Sometimes it takes the form of a complete new version and in between there are ‘variations’ which amended the order slightly, usually by adding or removing traps.  At the present time the authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all publish their own version of the Approval Order. Although generally very similar, these are often published at different times and so can become out of step; e.g. a trap may be approved or withdrawn for use in Scotland but not yet in England. The published Orders are easily available on the internet. If you read the General Licenses article in the February issue then that’s all going to sound very familiar and the same advice about checking for local variations applies here too.

Find the Spring Traps Approval Order here

In order to obtain Approved status the listed traps have gone through rigorous tests and government field trials and the manufacturers have a lot to lose if their products fall below standard.  Unfortunately there are often cheap copies of some traps readily available, usually imported and often of low quality. The Order does allow for ‘equivalent’ traps to be used in place of the named manufacturers, but the terms of this equivalence are very strict and few, if any, of these copies would meet the conditions.  Unfortunately it is not currently an offence to sell substandard copy traps, but it is an offence to use them so it’s you that will carry the can. So it’s safer to stick to the manufacturers named in the Order. Many of the traps imported from the USA are also UK specific variants so anything you import directly may not comply with UK law.  For example the UK variant of the WCS tube trap has a pair of additional kill bars not present on the standard version.

The order also provides an interesting window on trap development in the UK.  The Imbra and Juby rabbit traps, first developed in 1951 and 1956 respectively are still listed and quite legal to use to trap rabbits inside the entrances of burrows and a remain a firm favourite of many traditional rabbit catchers.  The ‘keepers staples are all there, such as the three makers of the ‘Fenn’ style traps (Fenn, Springer and Solway) along with the BMI Bodygrip series of traps.  If you take the time to look through the order you’ll also see references to a few lesser known traps.  How many people realise that there are two variants of the Kania squirrel trap? The Kania 2500 supplied without the rear bait box ready to be built into any housing of your own design.  The Nooski traps for rats and mice are a bit of a novelty, targeted at the urban pest control market and kill by the use of a powerful rubber band.  No honestly they do.   Others like the VS squirrel trap have never really made it to commercial availability and few people have ever even seen one.  But the order does include some relatively new traps which are viable and well worth getting to know as it’s always possible that some of the old favourites may be dropped from the order.  Traps like the Collarum fox trap which is a spring loaded snare with a canine specific trigger mechanism, the WCS tube trap mentioned already and even the DOC series of traps from New Zealand.  A bit expensive, heavy and requiring a very specific housing there’s no denying that the DOCs are a powerful trap.

But what about the approved ways? Well just because a trap is listed on the order does not mean that you can do anything you like with it.  For each trap listed the STAO describes the way in which it must be used and what species it can be used for.  This entry for the Mark IV Fenn Trap is typical;  “The traps may be used only for the purpose of killing grey squirrels, stoats, weasels, rats, mice and other small ground vermin (except for those species listed in Schedules 5 and 6 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981). The traps must be set in natural or artificial tunnels which are, in either case, suitable for the purpose”.  To use such a trap to target any animal not listed, or to use it without a tunnel would equally constitute an offence.

In the latest version a blanket phrase was also added at the beginning of the section 2; a catchall clause which really reinforces the spirit of the legislation and not just the letter of the law; “The approvals given by paragraph (1) are subject in all cases to the conditions that ……..so far as is practicable without unreasonably compromising its use for killing or taking target species, the trap must be used in a manner that minimises the likelihood of its killing, taking or injuring non-target species”.

There is lots of information about the practical use of approved traps in books and on the internet, but be careful of material aimed at the America market where the rules are significantly more relaxed.

In the end it’s up to you to make a judgement about whether a trap you set meets the required conditions for the country and region that you’re in.  Don’t ask yourself ‘Is this a legal trap?’ because there’s no such thing.   The question is ‘Am I using this trap legally?

Link to published STAOs


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