The Game Conservancy, in its 1991 Review, has announced that the number of magpies slaughtered has doubled 1990 and trebled since 1980. The Game Conservancy says that the obvious explanation is the development of the Larsen Trap which uses a live captive magpie as bait to catch others.

It is also clear that the trapping is going on all through the summer months and that untold thousands of magpie chicks have starved to death in their nests due to their parent birds being trapped. Mike Swan of the Game Conservancy has told the media that the birds are trapped before the nesting season but in Shooting Times, Mr Swan told a different story – saying that he traps magpies for ‘about six weeks in April and May.’

In a sister bloodsport magazine, Shooting News, another keeper writing under the pseudonym of ‘Shotgunner’ said that he had caught and killed 59 magpies up ‘until the end of June.’ The League Against Cruel Sports also has evidence of another keeper still trapping magpies in July.

The killing any birds during the nesting season is illegal under the European Birds Directive of 1979 to which the UK Government is a signatory. Following threats of prosecution of the Government by the European Commission, the Government intents to amend the Wildlife and Countryside Act so that the all-year killing of birds such as magpies and crows requires a licence. However, the Government has told the shooting fraternity that the amendment is purely cosmetic for the purpose of technically complying with the European Directive and that anyone killing such birds will automatically be covered by the licence for which there is no need to apply and no requirement to keep any records of the numbers of birds killed.

The League Against Cruel Sports has written to the Department of the Environment opposing the Government’s intentions. The League urges the Government to accept the spirit of the European Directive and ban the killing of any birds during their nesting season – thus avoiding the slow starvation to death of countless thousands of chicks. In exceptional circumstances the League accepts a licensing provision but insists that anyone who wishes to kill magpies and crows during their nesting seasons should furnish justification and be required to submit records of the birds killed.

Published: Wildlife Guardian, Issue 23, Winter 1992/3