TAYSIDE Police today issued a warning that interfering with legally set cage traps in the countryside is an offence and anyone caught doing this can expect to be charged.

The warning comes after a gamekeeper on an Angus estate discovered someone had vandalised one of his crow cages at the weekend, by pulling the door off and releasing the captive crow inside.

Legislation provides that, with the land owner's permission, a person controlling carrion crows, can legally shoot them, catch them in live-catch cage traps, or destroy their nests or eggs.

Part of the carrion crows' diet is the eggs or chicks of other birds, particularly those that nest on the ground, such as lapwings, redshank, curlew, partridge and grouse. They can also kill or injure new-born lambs or sheep that have gone over on to their backs.

Alan Stewart, Tayside Police wildlife and environmental crime officer, said: "In a bid to ensure that gamekeepers and farmers use cage traps and Larsen traps responsibly the Scottish Government, who issue a number of general licence annually, require the operators to conform to any conditions set out in the licences.

"It is seldom in Tayside now that the right to control birds in this way is abused by the operators. Conversely, I receive reports all too often that legally set traps are being damaged or interfered with.

"This interference is completely unfair on people who are carrying out their job in accordance with the conditions of the general licence that allows them to do so."

All operators of cage traps or Larsen traps for pest species of birds are now in the process of fitting tags or signs to their cages that by law must display a code given by their local police wildlife crime officer, and a police contact telephone number.

In the case of Tayside this code will always begin with TAY. This will allow anyone who has any doubts about the legality of the trap to make contact with the police and enquire about the method used.

Mr Stewart said: "The public should make use of this facility and contact us if they have concerns, but please respect the right of the operator of the trap to control crows, or in some cases magpies."

James Scott, press and policy officer for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation said: "It is annoying that legal traps like this which protect a wide variety of ground nesting birds and livestock from attack are being illegally interfered with.

"The responsible shooting community will only conduct trapping within the law and with the best of intentions. People who interfere with these traps are misguided. We are particularly pleased that Tayside Police has chosen to highlight this issue."

Mr Stewart reminds trap operators in Tayside that they must make contact with him, if they have not already done so, on Perth (01738) 892650 as soon as possible to obtain the mandatory code, one of the most recent general licence conditions.