The Member may recall from his role on the Environment Committee that there was a commitment to place further restrictions on the use of snares. That commitment was to be achieved through the snares order, which was subject to affirmative resolution. The order was laid in October 2015, however the Assembly's approval was not sought during the previous mandate to bring the legislation into force.
I intend to complete the legislative process, which will require a revised order due to the timescale involved since the previous order was laid and the subsequent new Assembly structure. That approach will ensure complete transparency in the process.
I am conscious that many organisations and individuals see the use of snares as inhumane treatment of wild animals. Indeed, some would like them banned altogether. However, there is a need to protect farm animals, game birds and other species from predators, such as foxes, at certain times of the year. The use of snares provides an effective and practical means of providing that protection. I feel that the additional safeguards in the snares order should help to negate the concerns of those opposed to the use of snares, as the additional restrictions are intended to reduce suffering.
I thank the Minister for her answer. I detected from it that the matter lay dormant with previous Ministers, who seemed to refuse to do anything about it. That is regrettable, and it would be good to hear why they did that. Minister, will you outline to the Assembly what the position will be if you do not complete the legislation?
I thank the Member for his question. Obviously, if the order is not actioned, we will have the status quo. The current levels of protection, which are beneficial, will remain, but they are limited, including, for example, the requirement to inspect set snares once every 24 hours. The additional restrictions that the order would bring, such as snares having to be fitted with permanent safety stops, are, I feel, required. The purpose of a stop is to prevent the noose closing too far and inflicting damage to the caught animal, particularly through strangulation. I imagine that this and other restrictions would be welcomed by responsible landowners and those who see snaring as an indiscriminate means of pest control. I do not find the status quo acceptable.
A snare is a loop of wire that tightens around the leg, body or neck of any animal caught by it. That can include foxes, hares, badgers, deer and, at times, pets such as cats and dogs. Polls have found that around three of four people in Northern Ireland support a total ban on snares. Why is the Minister not minded, therefore, to introduce a total ban?
I thank the Member for his question. Personally, I have sympathy for the calls to ban the use of snares outright. However, as mentioned, a practical approach to land management is needed. Young lambs are susceptible to fox predation, as are game birds and other species, and farmers and gamekeepers require a practical and effective means of vermin control. The alternatives are not viable: the use of poison is potentially prohibited, less targeted and more inhumane. It is not reasonable to ask landowners to patrol their fields with shotguns at night, when foxes are most active, and it would also be costly and potentially dangerous to allow others to do that work on a large scale on their behalf.
As you will be aware, a complete ban was discussed during the debate on the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill, which went through the Assembly in 2011. It was debated at length and rejected. The new legal requirements will help to promote best possible practice in the use of snares, but I have sympathy for the Member's comments.