Spring Traps


Spring traps are ostensibly set to catch and kill small mammals such as stoats and weasels. They are often baited with eggs or carrion, which entice animals into the brutal jaws of the trap. Spring traps cause long, slow deaths, snapping the bones of small mammals and birds, and detaining them until they die.

Spring traps are often found attached to logs over gullies or streams on the moor, or along the bottom of dry stone walls, where they may be hidden by a large stone or wooden box. Thousands are used on the grouse moors in this pattern. Others may be discovered on open moorland, where they have been implicated in raptor persecution.

By law, spring must be covered and the entrances restricted to prevent non-target capture. However, they are frequently found without adequate protection. In such cases, they can catch any bird or mammal. Dippers, curlews, mountain hares have all been found caught and killed in spring traps on local shooting estates. In August 2019, a young golden eagle was witnessed in the Cairngorms National Park with an illegal spring trap clamped to its leg.

Spring traps have been internationally condemned for many years, due to the inhumane suffering they cause – but the UK has continued to legalise their use. What little legislation is in place is rarely enforced as spring traps are not registered and are often used in rural areas and on private land. This means that wild animals suffer unseen and with no recognition of their rights as captive animals under the Animal Welfare Act.

Pet cats and dogs are also at risk from traps and snares, as Molly’s Story explains.

The RSPB have compiled a blog discussing the bird species caught in spring traps on grouse moors, including merlin, red grouse, pied wagtail, ring ouzel and song thrush. However, it should be noted that the RSPB use thousands of spring traps on their own reserves to protect their own species of interest.

From April 2020, it will be illegal to set the old-style Fenn traps to catch stoats. This is because, by the industry’s own admission, tests have shown that Fenn traps fail to kill stoats reliably within the time-frame required by international animal welfare standards. New models of spring trap are currently being introduced in the UK to kill stoats. They are still inhumane and it is hard to see how stoats will gain any meaningful protection, under licenses which are self-regulated by trappers and require no registration or reporting.

Stoat killed in new style Tully trap, 2021. Note this stoat is clawing the cage, suggesting they did not die instantly upon entering the trap.

For further discussion of the new legislation, please see War on Wildlife’s blog, published 01 April 2020.

It will still be legal in the UK to catch weasels, grey squirrels and other species in the old Fenn traps – even though the humaneness testing applied for stoats has not been applied for species. Again, by the shooting industry’s own admission, the lack of testing was a financial decision. It means that wild animals will continue to suffer prolonged and painful deaths in old-style Fenn traps. And in practice, stoats will continue to be caught as the traps are indiscriminate.

Please be vigilant for all spring traps.


  • Monitor closely for wounded wildlife and non-target captures. Document wherever possible and seek urgent vetinary assistance. Please be particularly aware of the new legislation around stoat trapping – and the use of new, unregulated lethal traps.
  • Spring traps are often concealed under rocks along the bottom of dry stone walls, or placed on logs across moorland streams.
  • Look out for uncovered spring traps – these are entirely illegal as they can catch any species and cause horrific injuries/death.
  • Look out for spring traps on top of poles or dry stone walls – these are intended to catch raptors and are entirely illegal.
  • Ask your MP to campaign against spring traps. There is no regulation of these barbaric devices and virtually no enforcement of the law. Humaneness tests have been omitted and disregarded in the UK for years, despite international standards on trapping. This causes intolerable cruelty and suffering in a nation of “animal lovers”.

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