Wildlife Crime in Scotland 2022

Publication giving statistics on wildlife crime in Scotland.

Key Points

When a wildlife crime is suspected, the first step is for it to be reported to the police (or detected by the police), and then recorded. Further steps may include investigation to assess whether the recorded crime should be part of a case submitted to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and then a decision on whether there is sufficient evidence for the case to be prosecuted. Ultimately a court case may result in a conviction or acquittal. All these stages may be supported by relevant scientific evidence and intelligence.

This report presents statistics relating to 2021-22 for the various stages described above. Although these sets of statistics are related, direct comparisons between them cannot be made due to differences in data sources, timing and the bases on which statistics were collated. For example, several recorded crimes may be included in one COPFS case (involving multiple sources of scientific evidence), and subsequent criminal proceedings may occur in a different year.

Police recorded crime (offences)

Line chart showing the trend in Wildlife Crime, from 2017-18 to 2021-22, recorded by Police Scotland and published by Scottish Government.

  • In 2021-22 there were 286 offences relating to wildlife recorded by the police. This is a decrease of 7% in comparison with 2020-21 (308 recorded offences).
  • There were noticeable decreases in recorded crime for fish poaching (from 110 to 49 offences) and hunting with dogs (from 44 to 13 offences). Increases were seen for birds (from 29 to 74 offences) and “other wildlife offences” (from 43 to 73 offences) – both of these can, in part, be attributed to Operation Tantallon which targeted offences against peregrine falcons.

Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service cases

  • The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service received 77 cases relating to wildlife crime (which may include more than 1 offence per case), with fish poaching being the most common category (23 cases). Of these 77 cases, 23 were prosecuted, 33 received an alternative to prosecution e.g. fine and 21 resulted in no action.

Criminal proceedings (people proceeded against)

  • Criminal proceedings statistics in 2021-22 show that 18 people were proceeded against for wildlife crimes – a return to a more typical level after the very low number (2) in 2020-21 due to the impact of COVID. Of these 18 people, 11 were found guilty for at least 1 offence. Looking over the period (2017-18 to 2021-22), the average (5-year) conviction rate is 76%, with a monetary penalty being the most common main penalty.

Scientific evidence and intelligence

  • 17 cases were investigated by the Wildlife DNA Forensic Unit, with raptor persecution and poaching & coursing being the most common offence types investigated (5 cases each).
  • 217 suspected wildlife poisonings were investigated by the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) Chemistry Branch, with 14 of the incidents attributed to pesticides, and 3 identified as abuse incidents (i.e. deliberate intent to harm). The number of abuse incidents involving birds of prey has fallen from 9 in 2019-20 to 1 in 2021-22.
  • Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) Veterinary Services examines bird and animal carcasses where wildlife crime is suspected, and undertook examinations in 155 cases in 2021-22. The percentage of cases identified by post-mortem as crime-related is higher for mammal cases (17 out of 44, or 39%) than bird cases (26 out of 111, or 23%).
  • The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Special Investigation Unit) took part in 143 wildlife crime investigations in 2021-22, including 52 where they assisted a police-led investigation, and 91 where the Scottish SPCA was the sole investigator.
  • The police National Wildlife Crime Unit gathers intelligence relating to wildlife crime in Scotland, with the most common intelligence information being in relation to hares, deer and fish.

Wildlife crime priority areas (further analysis of recorded crimes)

  • Some types of wildlife crimes (relating to badgers, bats, trade in endangered species, freshwater pearl mussels, poaching and coursing and raptor persecution) are designated as being “priority areas”. Police Scotland provide further detailed analysis to allow these areas to be separately identified from within the broader crime classifications of the recorded crime data presented earlier. Between 2020-21 and 2021-22, there was a sharp drop in offences identified as relating to poaching and coursing (from 212 to 101). Police Operation Tantallon, which targeted crimes against peregrine falcons, was the key factor behind increases between 2020-21 and 2021-22 in offences for trade in endangered species (from 1 to 46) and raptor persecution (from 11 to 24). Offences for other priority areas in 2021-22 were broadly similar to preceding years, with 13 badger persecution offences identified, 2 freshwater pearl mussels offences and no bat persecution offences.


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