2. Headline trends
This chapter outlines the main trends in wildlife crime recorded by the police, reports of those charged by the police and processed by COPFS and numbers of people proceeded against in court.
2.1 Recorded crime
Table 1 provides a summary of the different types of wildlife crime recorded by the police over the five year period to 2017-18. These recorded crime statistics are Scottish Government statistical output derived from Police Scotland's recorded crime database.
In 2017-18 there were 236 offences relating to wildlife recorded by the police. This is a slight increase of 2% in comparison with 2016-17 (231 recorded offences).
Fish poaching and crimes against birds were the most commonly recorded type of offence (45 each), although both figures were down from 2016-17 (34% and 10% respectively). Reported badger crime saw a marked increase in 2017-18 rising to 14 offences from six in 2016-17.
Table 1: Wildlife crime recorded by Police Scotland, 2013-14 to 2017-18
|Offences relating to:||2013-14||2014-15||2015-16||2016-17||2017-18|
|Conservation (protected sites)||1||1||5||1||5|
|Cruelty to wild animals||22||38||23||24||32|
|Hunting with dogs||29||20||42||22||41|
|Poaching and game laws||4||2||-||6||3|
|Other wildlife offences||29||44||53||40||33|
Source: Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2017-18
* Offences recorded under Protection of Badgers Act 1992 only
Table 2 presents the distribution of the types of wildlife crime between different Police Scotland divisions in 2017-18.
Table 2: Wildlife crime recorded, by Police Scotland Division, 2017-18
|Offences relating to:||North East||Argyll & West Dunbartonshire||Ayrshire||Dumfries & Galloway||Edinburgh||Fife||Forth Valley||Greater Glasgow||Highland & Islands||Lanarkshire||Renfrewshire & Inverclyde||Tayside||The Lothians & Scottish Borders||Total|
|Conservation (protected sites)||-||1||-||-||-||2||-||-||-||-||-||1||1||5|
|Cruelty to wild animals||5||4||5||-||-||6||-||-||4||2||2||1||3||32|
|Hunting with dogs||12||-||-||1||-||9||-||-||-||1||-||7||11||41|
|Poaching and game laws||1||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||1||-||-||-||1||3|
|Other wildlife offences||9||-||-||1||1||2||3||-||1||-||-||14||2||33|
Source: Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2017-18
The highest number of wildlife offences in 2017-18 were recorded in Highland & Islands and the Lothians & Scottish Borders (41 each), followed by North East (40) and Tayside (27). Table 2 also shows that almost half of all fish poaching offences were recorded in the Highland & Islands (18 of 45). 31% of all offences relating to birds were recorded in the Lothians & Scottish Borders.
2.2 Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Statistics
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service's (COPFS) dedicated Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit (WECU) has been in operation since 15 August 2011. WECU investigates and manages the prosecution of all cases involving crimes against wildlife.
Case work of the Wildlife Environmental Crime Unit in 2017-18
Table 3 shows the breakdown of wildlife cases received by COPFS in each of the financial years 2013-14 to 2017-18, following the standard categories used elsewhere in this report. Further information on the COPFS data is available in Appendix 2 - Notes and Definitions for COPFS Data.
Table 3: Wildlife cases received by in 2013-14 to 2017-18
|Offence relating to:||2013-14||2014-15||2015-16||2016-17||2017-18|
|Birds||21 (6)||17||15 (5)||24||13|
|Cruelty to wild animals||*||11||*||8||-|
|Hunting with dogs||13||6||15||7||22|
|Other wildlife offences||17||17||20||14||10|
|Other conservation offences||-||-||*||*||-|
|Total||125 (13)||98 (7)||90 (9)||94 (5)||67|
Source: Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
*= data suppressed. See Appendix 2.
The figures in brackets in Table 3 indicate the number of reports submitted by the Scottish SPCA. Where fewer than five cases were reported in any category either in total or by the Scottish SPCA, the figures have been removed from the table.
The outcomes of these cases are shown in Table 4 below.
Table 4: Outcomes of all wildlife cases reported to in 2013-14 to 2017-18
|Alternative to prosecution||30||34||27||35||23|
|of which convicted||47||28||16||25||*|
|No. of reports received||125 (13)||98 (7)||90 (9)||94 (5)||67|
Source: Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
The figures in brackets in Table 4 indicate the number of reports submitted by the Scottish SPCA. Where fewer than five cases were reported in any category either in total or by the Scottish SPCA, the figures have been removed from the table.
The following information relates to cases reported in 2017-18.
Prosecution in court was undertaken in 14 cases (21% of cases received). Of these:
- Fewer than five cases resulted in an acquittal of all charges; and
- Proceedings were not persisted with in fewer than five cases where, for example, following review, the prosecutor concluded that there was insufficient admissible evidence.
23 cases were dealt with by an alternative to prosecution (34% of cases received). Disposals of these cases included warning letters (issued in 10 cases, i.e. 15% of cases received) and fiscal fines (issued in 13 cases i.e. 19% of cases received).
No action for alleged wildlife offending was taken in 30 cases (45% of cases received). In the majority of those cases, no action was taken for alleged wildlife offences for legal reasons and in fewer than five cases was in the exercise of the prosecutor’s discretion.
The legal reasons included:
- circumstances that did not constitute a crime;
- instances where there was insufficient evidence to permit proceedings; and
- instances where the delay in reporting was such that prosecutorial action was no longer justified in the particular circumstances.
Further information about cases received in 2017-18 is as follows:
- A total of 13 reports (19% of cases received) related to incidents involving wild birds, their nests or eggs.
- 5 reports (7% of cases received) included alleged offences involving birds of prey.
- 24 cases (36% of cases received) involved dogs.
- 25 cases (37% of cases received) involved activity targeting hares or rabbits.
- The majority of cases in the "Hunting with dogs" category related to allegations of hare coursing.
- "Other wildlife offences" included alleged COTES offences, contraventions of the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulations 1994 and releasing or allowing to escape, an animal included in Part I of Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The subject matter of other reports included circumstances involving badgers, the use of traps, allegations of fox hunting and the use of firearms.
Further details of case outcomes in the individual categories are provided in Appendix 2A - Further information on COPFS Case Outcomes.
- An individual was found in possession of fishing tackle in circumstances which afforded reasonable grounds for suspecting that they had obtained possession of the items as the result, or for the purpose, of committing an offence under provisions of the Act, in contravention of section 9(1) of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003. The Sheriff imposed a community payback order with a requirement to carry out 60 hours of unpaid work.
- An individual was fined £200 for an offence under section 9(1) of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 after being found in possession of an illegal fish bait containing Atlantic salmon roe.
- An individual was found guilty following trial of deliberately hunting a hare with three dogs, in contravention of section 1(1) of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 and fined £1500.
- An individual pleaded guilty to contravening section 11G(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act by hunting a hare with a lurcher type dog, which caught the hare; and section 1(1) of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, by deliberately hunting, on another occasion, a hare with two dogs. The individual received concurrent sentences of 75 days and 100 days imprisonment respectively for each offence.
- An individual was found guilty following trial of recklessly shooting a buzzard whereby it was so severely injured that it required to be euthanised, in contravention of section 1(1)(a) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The incident occurred as part of an organised shooting event. The individual indicated he thought a pheasant had been shot, not a buzzard. The court imposed a £500 fine.
2.3 Criminal proceedings statistics
Table 5 shows the number of people proceeded against in Scottish courts and the relevant conviction rates for wildlife offences between 2013-14 and 2017-18. Please note that this table is a summary and a breakdown of proceedings for specific offences is provided at Appendix 3 - Court proceedings and penalties data by specific offence.
Criminal Proceedings statistics are not directly comparable with the recorded crime or COPFS figures presented above for a number of reasons. Please see section 2.4 for further explanation.
Table 5: People proceeded against in Scottish Courts for wildlife crimes1, 2013-14 to 2017-18
|Offences relating to:||2013-14||2014-15||2015-16||2016-17||2017-18||Last five financial years|
|Total proceedings||Conviction rate|
|Cruelty to wild animals||4||3||6||2||5||20||70%|
|Hunting with dogs||9||3||5||8||4||29||76%|
|Other wildlife offences||9||14||1||3||9||36||72%|
|Total proceeded against||80||51||25||23||29||208||78%|
|Total number of offences proceeded against2||168||158||73||59||55|
|Total number of offences found guilty2||100||66||33||32||26|
Source: Scottish Government Criminal Proceedings Database
1 Where main charge
2 All charges
There were 29 people proceeded against for wildlife related offences in 2017-18, a 26% increase from 2016-17 (23 people). The largest decrease for specific categories was in ‘hunting with dogs’ (four persons proceeded against compared to eight in 2016-17). There was, however, an increase in the number of proceedings for other wildlife offences, up to nine in 2017-18 from three in 2016-17.
Conviction rates for individual wildlife crime categories have been presented as a five year average due to the small numbers of proceedings for some categories. This shows that conviction rates are broadly similar among these categories, varying from 70% to 83%.
Although a single court proceeding can involve a number of different offences, it should be noted that Criminal Proceedings statistics only report on the ‘main charge’. Unless otherwise stated, proceedings and convictions for wildlife crimes referred to in this section are for when the wildlife crime was the main charge in a single court proceeding. For example, if a shotgun offence receives a higher penalty than a wildlife offence in the same proceeding, the shotgun offence would be counted, not the wildlife offence. To illustrate the difference, the total number of individual wildlife offence convictions in each year, regardless of whether the wildlife offence was the main charge or not, are presented at the bottom of Table 5.
In 2017-18 court proceedings were held covering a total of 55 wildlife crime offences, in comparison to the 29 proceedings where wildlife crime was the main charge in a case.
Tables 6 and 7 present information on penalties issued for wildlife crime convictions and have been presented as aggregate figures due to the small numbers of proceedings for some crime categories in individual years.
Table 6 shows that the most common punishment for a wildlife crime conviction is still a monetary fine, with 68% of convictions receiving this type of penalty in 2017-18, identical to 2016-17.
Table 6: People with a charge* proved for wildlife crimes in Scottish Courts, by main penalty, 2013-14 to 2017-18
|People proceeded against||80||51||25||23||29|
|People with a charge proved||60||35||20||22||25|
|Of which received:|
Source: Criminal Proceedings Statistics
* Where main charge
In Table 7, aggregate totals for the five years from 2013-14 to 2017-18 show that monetary punishments are mostly likely to be given for nearly all wildlife crime types, with the exception of offences relating to badgers, where community sentences were the more commonly given. Only 3.7% of all wildlife crime convictions resulted in a custodial sentence.
Average fines and custodial sentences are also presented in Table 7. It is not possible to establish the average number of Community Payback Order (CPO) hours as this information is not held in the Criminal Proceedings database nor is it available for other types of crime.
Table 7: People with a charge* proved for wildlife crimes in Scottish Courts, by main penalty and wildlife crime, 2013-14 to 2017-18
|Offences relating to:||2013-14 to 2017-18 totals||Average|
|Total with a charge proved||Custody||Community sentence||Monetary||Other||Custodial sentence length (days)||Monetary fine (£)|
|Cruelty to wild animals||14||1||3||8||2||126||555|
|Hunting with dogs||22||4||4||14||-||147||820|
|Other wildlife offences||26||-||3||21||2||-||613|
Source: Criminal Proceedings Statistics
* Where main charge
2.4 Comparing data sources
While the criminal justice IT systems represented in Tables 1 to 7 have common standards in terms of classifying crimes and penalties, care should be taken when comparing the different sets of statistics:
- Prosecutions may not happen or be concluded in the same year as a crime was recorded by Police Scotland. Timing is also an issue when comparing COPFS figures (which refer to prosecutions brought in respect of cases reported to COPFS in each financial year) and Criminal Proceedings statistics (which represent only prosecutions commenced and, of those, prosecutions concluded to the point of conviction, in each financial year)
- In the Police Scotland recorded crime statistics, a single crime or offence recorded by the police may have more than one perpetrator. By comparison the court statistics measure individuals who are proceeded against, which may be for more than one crime. As outlined above, only the main charge in a prosecution is presented for criminal proceeding statistics
- There is the possibility that the crime or offence recorded by Police Scotland may be altered e.g. when Police Scotland submit a report of alleged offending to COPFS, and COPFS may alter the charges during their case marking process, which makes it difficult to track crimes through the criminal justice process
- Additionally, crimes and offences alleged to have been committed by children less than 16 years old are not included in the criminal proceedings statistics as these are representative of activity in the adult courts. Juveniles are generally processed through the children’s hearings system
- There may be discontinuity when comparing between the National Statistics data and Police Scotland data as any information provided by Police Scotland is taken from a ‘live’ system which is continually being updated as investigations progress. Whereas, the data provided by Police Scotland for the production of the National Statistics on Recorded Crime is extracted at the same time each year and is not back-revised. As a result, a reduction of in the number of crimes and offences recorded is expected due to two main scenarios:
1. Crimes and offences can be reclassified to a different crime or offence type i.e. from a wildlife crime to a different kind of crime, or
2. they can be re-designated as not being a crime following additional investigations.