For the seventh year, the Scottish Government annual wildlife crime report brings to the forefront an area of crime that the Scottish people want to see eradicated.
Once again, the report provides important information to the public, stakeholders and the Scottish Parliament on wildlife crime in Scotland. Building on the data provided by previous reports, it’s aim is to highlight trends and encourage discussion on how best further to reduce crime in this area.
This report covers the 2018 calendar year, using recorded statistical data from the 2017-2018 financial year. Following a fall in recorded wildlife crime incidents for the last two years, it is distressing to see this number rise by 2% in 2017-18. It is disappointing that wildlife crime and raptor persecution continue to threaten Scotland’s natural heritage and risk damaging the reputation of our country.
Alongside crimes against birds, fish poaching was the highest category crime although I am pleased that numbers have reduced for the third year running - down from 101 offences in 2014-15 to 45 offences in 2017-18. This underlines the continued essential work carried out through the partnership of Police Scotland, Fisheries Management Scotland and District Salmon Fisheries Boards.
While it is encouraging not to see a return to previous higher levels of wildlife crime incidents, it is important to explain that this is not the whole picture and that the Scottish Government remains committed to taking action to tackle this problem.
As with any other area, crimes recorded by the Police do not reveal the incidence of all crime committed since not all crimes are reported to the Police or Scottish SPCA. The very nature of wildlife crime does not lend itself to detection, usually occurring in remote areas where witnesses are rare and where evidence is often exposed to the elements.
It is disappointing that, again, there continues to be persecution of birds of prey. Recorded bird of prey cases more than doubled, from 11 in 2016-17 to 24 in 2017-18, with one incident accounting for almost half of this number.
In 2018, we also saw eight satellite-tagged raptors disappearing in suspicious circumstances: two golden eagles and six hen harriers. In all cases, their tags were functioning as expected, then stopped suddenly with no indications of technical malfunction. These circumstances strongly suggest that many of these incidents may be the result of illegal killing of these birds.
I have stated repeatedly that I want to put an end to this type of crime, to make Scotland a safer place for golden eagles, our iconic national bird, and for all wildlife. The Scottish Government has put in place a range of measures to tackle wildlife crime over the years, including: being the first country in the UK to prevent the use of General Licences by those convicted of wildlife crimes; arranging a pesticide disposal scheme; commissioning a review of golden eagle disappearances; commissioning an independently-led review of grouse moor management; strengthened the resources available to law enforcement; increased the deployment of wildlife crime trained police officers; and established the specialist wildlife and environmental crime prosecution unit.
But we are not complacent. While it’s for the sheriff or judge who has heard a case, acting independently of any other person, to determine what sentence should be imposed, we are increasing the maximum penalties available for the most serious wildlife crimes to give the courts enhanced powers to deal appropriately with cases such as those involving cruel and sadistic behaviour. The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Powers and Protections) Bill will also, in addition to a suite of measures to protect domestic and companion animals, extend the time for these crimes to be investigated.
As always, recognition and thanks must go to our key partners in law enforcement and all the others involved, including Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish SPCA. Their ongoing commitment and hard work is crucial in our efforts to tackle wildlife crime.
Roseanna Cunningham MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform