Moscar, the National Trust & the Peak District National Park…

Just weeks after being warned by the RSPCA after snaring a badger, the Moscar gamekeepers are at it again… And now they are implicating both the National Trust and the Peak District in animal cruelty and potential wildlife crime.

In late May 2020, walkers alerted HIT to suspicious activity near Stanage Edge in the Peak District. Max Hickling – a gamekeeper from the Moscar Estate – was seen attending several traps on land owned by the Peak District National Park (the Stanage & North Lees Estate) and the National Trust (the Longshaw Estate at Outseats).

A cage trap was found at SK 23044 83302 on Peak District National Park land. This trap was a baited mammal trap, placed between the drystone wall and woodland in the immediate vicinity of an active badger sett.  Trail cameras and latrines evidenced the presence of badgers. The PDNP have since advised that Moscar gamekeepers are not authorised to use traps or snares on any PDNP land.

In addition, several traps were set on land nearby, which the National Trust has confirmed it owns. There was a mammal trap, baited with carcasses, placed at SK 23042 83300.  There were two Larsen traps, baited with live birds and moved around the fields of SK 23107 83215, SK 23018 83281 and SK 22948 83245. These traps were in use throughout both the scorching heat and torrential rain of early June 2020. The NT have not yet confirmed whether or not Moscar gamekeepers are authorised to use traps or snares on any PDNP land.

The Moscar gamekeeper, Max Hickling, was seen attending the traps by day on his quad bike. He checked the mammal traps and moved the Larsen traps around, indicating his responsibility for these devices. He checked the traps in the late morning-early afternoon, meaning that any animals caught overnight were held captive for many hours, in all conditions. Max was also seen attending the National Trust land by night, using a macabre pile of dead corvids to lure predators in for shooting. The shooting lure pile was again within meters of the badger sett.

The traps were immediately reported to the RSPCA. Two RSPCA inspectors agreed that the trap on the badger sett apparently on PDNP land was illegal (badgers are a protected species and it is an offence to try to trap them without a license) and that there were further concerns about the Larsen traps on NT land. A local inspector advised they would attend the site with police.

Several days passed whilst the RSPCA waited for Derbyshire Police to arrange a visit. During this time, one of the corvids used as a live bait bird was found with a serious wing injury: the wing had been broken to the bone. This injury may be the result of shoddy wing clipping – a practice in which a call bird’s wings are clipped back to prevent it ever flying away. The bird was in significant pain. He was taken for urgent veterinary care and had to be euthanised. His prolonged and unnecessary suffering at the hands of gamekeepers on National Trust land is appalling – and apparently in breach of the Animal Welfare Act.

Badly injured call bird used as live bait in Larsen trap on NT land

The Larsen traps also caught two tiny fox cubs overnight. They were found soaked and shivering after two of the coldest, wettest nights of the spring. As Max did not check the traps until late morning/early afternoon, the cubs were at risk of hypothermia and further suffering if left for many more hours in the trap. They were safely rescued.

Fox cub caught in Moscar Larsen trap on NT land

Not only did the cubs suffer during their many hours in captivity, they will have tormented the injured call bird in the next compartment of the trap – along with other predators approaching the trap from outside. The call bird endured unimaginable fear whilst he was injured, trapped and had no possibility of escape. The psychological cruelty inflicted on captive call birds is hugely under-recognised. The use of live bait birds for gamekeeping and so-called conservation is an act of archaic animal cruelty which HIT has previously highlighted. We bear witness to this and every call bird’s untold suffering.

The crow’s body has been taken by the RSPCA for post-mortem and an investigation continues into his mutilation, suffering and death. On the nearby lure pile, numerous more corvid bodies were found – each having suffered a similar brutal fate. The gamekeepers stated they had a license for the Larsen traps and implied that they had the landowners’ permission to trap in the area. HIT has contacted the National Trust and Peak District National Park to alert them to our concerns. The National Trust have begun their own investigations. The Peak Park have confirmed that the keepers had no authority to use traps or snares on their land.

After asking the RSPCA inspector to wait several days to attend with them, Derbyshire Police attended the site without the RSPCA and returned, stating that no offences had been committed. This is sadly typical of Derbyshire Police’s response to wildlife crime in the local area. Thankfully, the RSPCA have continued their own investigations. The inspector spoke with the gamekeepers Max Hickling and Jason Clamp, warning them that they could not continue to place traps on the badger sett and if they do catch a badger, they will be assumed guilty of intentionally trapping a protected species. The traps were removed, thanks to the RSPCA, who thankfully are not deterred by the gamekeepers’ tactics. The inspector warned the gamekeepers that an investigation is underway into wildlife crime on this site. We hope to see justice for the poor call bird – who suffered and died as as a result of being live bait in a cruel Moscar trap on National Trust land.

The Moscar Estate has a long and growing history of wildlife crime and cruelty.

In 2020, gamekeeper Darcy Smith was warned by the RSPCA after snaring a badger.

in 2017, HIT exposed the full horror of the Moscar estate, and former gamekeeper Jonathan Turnbull was interviewed by police after snaring two badgers.

The vigilance of local people is needed now more than ever to protect wildlife from the Duke of Rutland’s hired gunmen. Please monitor the estate closely. Contact the Peak District National Park and National Trust, to urge them to end their association with grouse shooting’s wildlife crime and cruelty.

Moscar trap placed on active badger sett on PDNP land
Moscar trap placed on active badger sett on PDNP land