Civil society activism and animal welfare policy divergence


As part of a series of blog posts on WISERD’s civil society and animal welfare research, here we look at the “territorialisation” of animal welfare rights and how this is being driven by civil society activism. In other words, civil society organisations (CSOs) successfully lobbying for distinctive laws and policies that convey contrasting protections in either Wales, Scotland or England. These are called “rights” because they place duties on named bodies, groups and individuals – and/or make named practices unlawful and subject to criminal or civil proceedings and penalties, including fines and imprisonment.

The “territorialisation of rights” refers to the fact that (initially, at least) these reforms apply in one territory – or jurisdiction. They set out the minimum standards on how named species should be treated by humans. Whilst these new laws improve animal welfare in one jurisdiction, the practices they proscribe may remain lawful in other UK jurisdictions. Axiomatically, these are ‘proxy rights’ in that they are exercised by humans on behalf of animals.

Lobbying for law reform

Our first example is the banning of snares in Wales. This is under the provisions of the Agriculture Wales bill that was passed by the Senedd on 27th June this year. Snares are wire or cord nooses that are placed in undergrowth with the intention of killing animals such as rabbits (although they are indiscriminate and catch all manner of creatures, including cats and dogs). Typically, the animal dies a slow and agonising death as it is choked to death as it tries to escape.

Prior to the Senedd passing the bill, CSOs lobbied for law reform in Wales and implored their members to act. For example, a network of CSOs prepared an open letter to Members of the Senedd and asked their supporters to lobby for change. It told its members: “Imagine a Land of Our Future where we restore nature, tackle climate change and secure healthy, sustainable food for future generations. For this to happen, we need to make sure the Agriculture (Wales) Bill is strong enough to deliver these changes. We can only influence the next phase effectively with your help”.

Subsequently, another CSO told its members: ‘As you may be aware, we are celebrating yet another momentous victory for animals: Wales just banned the use of snares. In a few short months, shooting estates will no longer be able to lay death traps for animals. We got what we asked for: a straightforward ban on snaring, with no amendments, no loopholes. The bill was passed last night, meaning badgers, foxes, cats and dogs will be protected from a long and agonising death in these cruel traps. But in England, snaring remains legal. Please donate today to help us take on the rest of the UK and protect more animals from the cruelty of snares’.[i]

Policy transfer

Our second example is one where civil society organisations are similarly using policy change in one jurisdiction to lobby for reform elsewhere (in the academic literature this is known as policy transfer). Mandatory closed-circuit television (CCTV) was introduced in slaughterhouses in England in 2018. Amongst other things, the resulting video record reduces the chances of abuse and cruelty by abattoir staff. At present this is not a requirement under Welsh law, although the Welsh Government is currently consulting on a ban.

According to one animal welfare CSO “polling has indicated that a huge 82% of the public in Wales supports the introduction of CCTV. It is clear that we are not alone in the belief that this is an important step in improving farm animal welfare”. It proceeded to implore the public to “take action and help thousands of animals – getting this vital change is a huge reassurance that animal welfare standards are being delivered… We can’t do this alone. The Welsh Government needs to hear from you”.

CSO activism

Broadly defined, animal welfare policy extends beyond mammals and includes birds, reptiles, fish and invertebrates – as well as habitat protection. Our third, recent example of territorialisation has again been driven by CSO activism. In June 2023 the courts found in favour of a welfare charity after it brought a judicial review case against the Scottish Government’s licensing of scallop dredging and seabed trawling. Whilst the sentience of shellfish and crustacea is debated, the sentience of lobsters, octopus and crabs has recently been confirmed in a report by the London School of Economics. Accordingly, this case has wider welfare significance because the dredging and trawling causes habitat destruction for these forms of marine life.

Following the judicial review these practices have been ruled unlawful in Scotland. In contrast, over the past decade, and in the face of civil society campaigning, the Welsh Government has introduced new regulations – including the introduction of vessel tracking devices in Welsh scallop fisheries. However, current Welsh legislation falls short of a ban. A public consultation on scallop fisheries is presently gathering evidence.

Territorialisation of animal welfare rights

These findings show how, in the wake of devolution, advocacy by civil society organisations is leading to the territorialisation of animal welfare rights. CSOs’ lobbying for policy transfer means that gains (in the form of new laws and policies) in one nation may subsequently be used in campaigning for similar reforms elsewhere. One consequence of devolution is improvements in welfare can take place in one jurisdiction whilst being resisted in others. The advances seen in Wales and Scotland would not necessarily be possible under the pre-devolution “one-size-fits-all” mode of lawmaking from Westminster.

[i] League Against Cruel Sports, Campaign e-mail to subscribers Help us ban snares throughout the rest of the UK, 26.06.23


Read the previous posts here:

Shifting public attitudes to animal welfare? New research explores the views of civil society campaigners

Devolution and animal welfare lobbying: exploring the views of civil society campaigners

New analysis: Animals in sport – exploring civil society welfare campaigning


Image credit: Credit: Robert Lane via iStock.