Annex 1 - Ministerial Commitment
"Since I took on responsibility for this portfolio, I have been clear that one of my priorities is to bear down on the illegal persecution of raptors that continues to blight the Scottish countryside and tarnish Scotland's reputation. These outdated, barbaric and criminal practices put at risk the conservation status of some of our most magnificent wildlife. They also harm our reputation as a country which values its environment and wildlife and undermine the growing tourism sector that is built on that reputation.
"We have achieved much since 2007. We have a robust legal framework that protects birds of prey and their nests, including the new vicarious liability provisions. We have dedicated resources in Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS). We are leading the way in the UK in the development of wildlife crime forensics work, and we continue to work at building a broad-based alliance through the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime ( PAW Scotland).
"In 2012 we saw a very welcome reduction in poisoning cases. However a number of recent reports, some of which are in the public domain and some of which are still subject to police enquiries, suggest that there is still a problem with the use of poison as well as cases involving illegal trapping and shooting. I have decided therefore that the time is right to bring forward some further measures which I hope will deter those involved in illegal activities.
"Wildlife crime, and raptor persecution in particular, often takes place in remote locations or in the dark of night. By its very surreptitious nature, the likelihood of being seen by a member of the public who can report the matter to the authorities is small.
"I have spoken with the Lord Advocate, who maintains a close personal interest in all wildlife crime. We are both keen to maximise the opportunity for offences to be detected and offenders to be tracked down.
"The Lord Advocate has instructed the specialist prosecutors in the Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit to work with Police Scotland to ensure that law enforcement utilises all investigative tools at their disposal in the fight against wildlife crime.
"This work will take place within the National Wildlife Crime Co-Ordinating Forum - a group attended by police Wildlife Crime Liaison Officers from across Scotland and the police's full-time Scottish Wildlife Crime Co-Ordinator, as well as senior police officers, the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Scottish Government officials and the specialist prosecutors from the Wildlife and Environment Crime Unit within COPFS.
"Secondly, in my capacity as Chair of PAW Scotland, I intend to establish a group to carry out a review and report to me on how wildlife crime is treated within the criminal justice system, including examining whether the penalties available for wildlife crime properly reflect the seriousness of the damage caused to vulnerable wildlife and fragile habitats and ecosystems.
"Thirdly, I will be asking Scottish Natural Heritage in their capacity as the authority for licensing decisions under section 16 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act to examine how and in what circumstances they can restrict the use of General Licences to trap and shoot wild birds on land where they have good reason to believe that crimes against wild birds have taken place. These General Licences allow the holders to carry out actions that would otherwise be unlawful if undertaken, without any reference to SNH. We regard the use of General Licences as a privilege that should not be extended in circumstances where there is evidence that their use may be facilitating illegal activities.
"In putting together these measures I have sought to focus only on those individuals and businesses where there are very good reasons to believe they are involved in illegal practices. I am very keen to avoid anything that places an unfair burden on the majority of shooting businesses that are law-abiding and responsible members of the rural community. I should also say that I think it is important that wildlife crime is treated in exactly the same way as other types of crime. This means information about cases should be handled in the same way as in other types of crime and that the police and prosecutors are allowed the time and space to carry out whatever investigations they believe to be necessary according to their own professional judgement. We should not descend into allowing trial by leak and accusation. There is a responsibility on us all to avoid that.
"In conclusion I wish to reiterate that eradicating raptor persecution in Scotland remains a high priority for the Scottish Government. It is not however the sole responsibility of the Scottish Government. Law enforcement clearly has a key role to play and I am confident that we are ratcheting up the pressure on those committing acts of illegal persecution. However, everyone involved in the Scottish countryside, and in particular those involved with shooting, should make abundantly clear their disapproval to the minority whose actions are tarnishing the reputation of Scotland's country sports."