Wildlife crime in Scotland: 2018 annual report

The seventh wildlife crime annual report, with new data from the financial year 2017 to 2018.

3. Additional data sources

Chapters three and four include commentary and data provided by other bodies involved in the investigation of wildlife crime in Scotland including government departments, agencies and non-Government organisations. The data provides additional detail on incidents or investigative work to complement the data presented in Chapter two and to help fill in gaps where disaggregation of that data is not possible.

Some of these data sources include incidents that have been reported to stakeholders or detected using their specific expertise.

Police Scotland operate to the Scottish Crime Recording Standard which sets criteria for recording an incident as a crime. There is no requirement for other stakeholders to adhere to the Scottish Crime Recording Standard, therefore there may be variability in the way in which crimes are recorded between the various organisations.

It is possible that, if reported to the Police, some of these incidents would not have been recorded as a crime, or would have been recorded as environmental offences or firearms/shotgun offences depending on the nature of the crime.

3.1 SASA

SASA, formerly known as Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture, is a Scottish Government department based in Edinburgh, which as part of its remit, provides several services for wildlife crime investigation.

Wildlife DNA Forensic Unit

Evidence seized by enforcement officers in the course of wildlife crime investigations often contain animal DNA evidence that can be crucial to an investigation – from confirming whether a crime has taken place, to linking a suspect directly to a specific crime scene. The Wildlife DNA Forensic Unit at SASA provides accredited forensic analysis of animal DNA evidence recovered by wildlife crime investigations throughout the UK. Table 8 provides a summary of the range of Scottish casework received in the financial years 2013-14 to 2017-18, divided into the UK wildlife crime priorities.

Table 8: Wildlife Forensic Unit cases from Scotland, 2013-14 to 2017-18

Category Scottish cases
2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18
Badger persecution 4 1 - - 1
Bat persecution - - - - -
CITES 1 - 2 1 1
Freshwater pearl mussels - - - - -
Poaching and coursing 6 1 - 3 3
Raptor persecution 4 10 5 4 5
Other wildlife crime 2 - - 4 1
Other (e.g. animal cruelty) 1 2 - 2 -
Total 18 14 7 14 11

Source: SASA

There were several cases of interest during the 2017-18 financial year. One involved the examination of various items of clothing and tools in an investigation into illegal hunting with dogs – DNA from badgers, roe deer and brown hare was recovered from several items, refuting the suspect’s claim that they had only been in contact with rabbits.

Another investigation into a fishing offence recovered a suspected fish roe bait, and analysis confirmed the presence of Atlantic salmon DNA in the roe bait. Finally, one case brought a completely new species to the unit – an investigation into the illegal hunting of a bean goose, Anser fabilis. Standard tests could not differentiate bean goose from other, unprotected goose species – in spite of the generous provision of reference material by the Wildlfowl and Wetlands Trust - and so unfortunately no DNA evidence could assist with this investigation.

The range of offences that could require analysis of animal DNA evidence require this unit to continually assess their capability with new species. In some instances it is possible to work with new species using standard tests, and in other cases new tests must be developed and validated in order to be used in a forensic investigation. A balance must be struck between the cost of developing new tests and the frequency the new test may be used in casework.

In this instance, the cost of development of a bean goose test would have been too high for this one case, but if further cases are identified this decision may be revised.

In June 2017, we organised Society for Wildlife Forensic Sciences meeting in Edinburgh, bringing colleagues from over 30 countries together to share knowledge and develop this relatively new field of forensic investigation.

Chemistry Branch

The Chemistry Branch at SASA investigates suspected animal poisoning incidents, as part of the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme. Table 9 provides details of suspected pesticide incidents investigated in Scotland between 2013-14 to 2017-18 and summarises those incidents, categorised as abuse†, that are considered to be wildlife crimes because of the species or pesticide involved. Annually, the branch investigates in the region of 170-230 incidents.

The number of poisoning abuse incidents did not change from 2016-17 to 2017-18. While the poisoning of a companion animal is not a wildlife crime, these incidents are included here as the companion animal may have been the accidental victim of an illegal poison intended to target wildlife, while wildlife could also be put at risk by poisons placed to target pets.

Table 9 also includes the numbers of abuse incidents involving suspicious baits or other substances, even if no creature was actually poisoned. Over the five year period, the highest number of recorded abuse incidents involved birds of prey (24) followed by companion animals (16). Bird of prey poisoning incidents are covered further in the Raptor Persecution section of this report.

Table 9: Pesticide incidents in Scotland 2013-14 to 2017-18

2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18
Number of incidents investigated during financial year * 194 192 215 205 184
Number of incidents attributed to pesticides 18 16 27 20 17
Category – Abuse 13 9 15 10 10
% abuse 7 5 7 5 5
No. of abuse incidents involving birds of prey 6 6 5 3 4
No. of abuse incidents involving other birds ** 2 - - 1 -
No. of abuse incidents involving suspicious baits/substances 4 1 3 3 3
No. of abuse incidents involving companion animals 1 2 7 3 3
No. of abuse incidents involving wild mammals - - - - -

Source: SASA

* Excludes honeybees and incidents where no analyses were undertaken

** No birds of prey associated with these incidents

Abuse: An investigation into the circumstances of the case concluded that the pesticide(s) involved had been used in breach of their authorisation conditions and that this has been done with the deliberate intent of harming or attempting to harm wildlife or other animals. Where an animal is involved the cause of death has been established as pesticide poisoning.

3.2 SAC Consulting Veterinary Services

SAC Consulting: Veterinary Services (SAC C VS) is a division of Scotland's Rural College (SRUC). While not a government agency, the work of their Veterinary Services team includes post mortem examinations on wild birds (under the Wild Bird Disease Surveillance budget) and on wild mammals (under the Animal Welfare budget). These budgets are funded by Advisory Activity grants-in-aid from the Scottish Government.

Carcase submissions for this wildlife crime summary come, in the main, from Police Scotland. Other substantial contributions come from the Scottish SPCA and RSPB. Small numbers of carcases come from other sources, such as Scottish Natural Heritage, other conservation or wildlife charities, or members of the public. Where the presence of wildlife crime is suspected following post mortem examination in cases submitted by non-law-enforcement agencies, the Police are notified of the outcome to allow investigation to proceed.

In addition to wildlife crime investigation, wild bird carcase submissions in Scotland are used for disease surveillance, notably exotic zoonotic diseases such as avian influenza or West Nile virus. The recent outbreaks of avian influenza in commercial units are an illustration of the need for surveillance for diseases of concern which may be carried by wild birds, particularly given the very long distances involved in migration patterns in some species.

In 2017-18, a total of 135 cases were submitted, of which 31 cases involved mammals and 104 involved birds. These are shown in Table 10 below.

The percentage of wild bird submissions suspected to be crime related following post-mortem examination is usually lower than the comparable percentage of mammal cases. There are several factors which may contribute to this difference. Firstly, buzzards tend to predominate the avian submissions by police - these birds are very numerous, and they are also a species known to be persecuted, which may lead to a high rate of report for this particular species by members of the public. Secondly, large bird of prey carcases are noticeable and recognisable for some time after death: the feathers over the carcase can survive for long periods in apparently good condition after death, which can give a superficial appearance of an intact and potentially usable carcase even where there is little to no soft tissue left within. This leads to a higher rate of bird submission in a state of decay beyond analysable viability, leading to a report of “insufficient evidence to ascertain cause of death”.

Table 10: Wildlife cases examined by SAC Consulting Veterinary Services under advisory activity funding, 2013-14 to 2017-18

2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18
Total wildlife cases examined as possible wildlife crimes 199 158 225 172 135*
Total mammal cases 50 41 45 49 31*
Total mammal cases identified by postmortem as crime related 25 26 23 11 13*
% of mammal cases identified by post mortem as crime related 50% 63% 51% 22% 42%
Total bird cases 149 117 180 123 104
Total bird cases identified by post mortem as crime related 21 30 22 13 18
% of bird cases identified by post mortem as crime related 14% 26% 12% 11% 17%

Source: SAC Consulting Veterinary Services

*Please note: One further submission, not included in the statistics above, involved a number of meat balls composed of ground red meat, which were found to contain poison. The intended target, whether wild mammals or pets, was not known, so this is included as an addendum: intentional harm to companion animals is not included in the SAC wildlife crime statistics.

It should be noted that the number of carcases submitted as potential wildlife crimes, and then identified as likely to be such, can depend on many factors, including environmental conditions suitable for preservation of carcases, public awareness of issues surrounding wildlife crime, level of scavenging activity, etc., in addition to levels of wildlife crime committed.

Wild mammalian work in the year 2017-2018 has covered a wide range of species including squirrels, hares, otters, badgers, foxes, and deer. With regard to the causes of death or injury, dog attack was the most common this year.

The avian cases have covered a range of species, though raptors always tend to predominate in cases submitted as suspected wildlife crimes. Causes of death or injury included shooting, poisoning, potential misuse of traps, suspected intentional attack by a person or persons, and dog attack.

In cases where the cause of death was recorded as "shooting" either for birds or mammals, a mixture of suspected rifle, shotgun, air gun and crossbow injuries were represented. Poison abuse incidents are confirmed by testing at SASA and so the same cases referred to here also appear in Table 23.

3.3 Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) – General Licence Restrictions and protected species licensing

As part of a package of anti-wildlife crime measures announced by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, SNH announced in 2014 that they would prevent the use of general licences to trap or shoot wild birds on land where there is evidence of wildlife crime against birds. Police Scotland will share information with SNH where it may prove to be of assistance in deciding on the use of these restrictions. The measures were back-dated to 1 January 2014, allowing action to be taken where there is evidence of relevant offences from that date onwards.

SNH published their framework for implementing restrictions on the use of General Licences in October 2014, which was part of a package of measures aimed at tackling raptor persecution. The rationale behind the restriction process was that the light-touch approach to regulation offered by General Licences (where there is no application process, and no significant registration or reporting requirements) would not be appropriate where there has been a loss of confidence, usually in situations where there has been evidence to show that crimes against wild birds have taken place.

SNH meet with Police Scotland and the National Wildlife Crime Unit every three months to review new information on bird crimes in Scotland and to identify any possible cases for future restrictions. Possible cases are reviewed against the criteria set out in the framework document and must be based upon clear evidence of crimes being committed.

Three General Licence restrictions ended in 2018 and a further two were in effect from 2017; one over an area of land in Perthshire, and another to an individual, prohibiting them from using the relevant General Licences for a period of 3 years. Details of these can be found on the SNH website; www.nature.scot

3.4 Police Scotland – firearms licensing

Police Scotland may revoke or refuse the renewal of a shotgun or firearm certificate in circumstances that demonstrate that the holder is no longer deemed to be suitable.

If a firearm certificate holder commits an offence, the Firearms and Explosives Licensing department for the relevant division in which they reside is notified of this and thereafter a report is initiated to examine the person's continued suitability to possess a shotgun or firearm. If a person subsequently has their shotgun or firearm certificate revoked, this would be in terms of the Firearms Act 1968 and not the original offence(s), regardless of the outcome at Court, as they would still have to be assessed on their suitability to possess firearms.

Accordingly revocations and refusals are currently recorded under the Firearms Act 1968 and it is not possible therefore to determine whether wildlife crime offences form part of the suitability consideration process.

3.5 Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA)

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA) and their Special Investigations Unit (SIU) are able to lead or support certain wildlife crime investigations in Scotland. Powers are granted to suitably trained staff by Scottish Ministers under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.

Scottish SPCA inspectors deal with routine domestic and wildlife welfare cases, however the SIU has a slightly different remit dealing with cases which are linked to illegal activities often involving serious and organised crime groups. SIU deals with both wildlife incidents and incidents involving domestic animals such as dogfighting and the puppy trade. Some of the SIU’s work involves incidents where there is both a domestic animal and wildlife element such as badger baiting. The SIU consists of five inspectors and one intelligence manager.

The SIU receives information (and complaints) from two main sources – the Scottish SPCA animal helpline will alert the SIU to any information that may be of interest, and some information is fed directly to the unit from intelligence sources and other agencies through intelligence logs and reports.

The Scottish SPCA’s animal helpline received over 210,000 calls between April 2017 and March 2018. Although the number of calls to the animal helpline has decreased by almost 15% the increase in public knowledge of the work of the SIU, brought about by marketing campaigns and media focusing on the results of a number of high profile cases, has resulted in the volume of information being passed to the SIU remaining roughly the same as the previous year.

The SIU estimate that between April 2017 and March 2018 they received:

  • 421 pieces of information for consideration from the Scottish SPCA helpline
  • 426 pieces of information from other sources. Upon investigation, some pieces of information may relate to incidents that may not in fact turn out to be the result of crime, may not actually involve wildlife, or are duplicate pieces of information relating to the same incident

Table 11 provides a further breakdown of incidents where the SIU identified a crime had taken place, including those reported to COPFS, listed under the six UK wildlife crime priority areas. These incidents were for cases investigated solely by the SIU.

Table 11: Wildlife incidents identified by SIU as crimes from April 2017 to March 2018

Type of wildlife crime Pieces of information identified as crime Reported to COPFS
Badger persecution 23 6
Illegal trade (CITES) - -
Raptor Persecution 7 -
Bat Persecution - -
Poaching and coursing 8 -
Freshwater pearl mussels - -
Other 45 -
Total 52 6

Source: Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The statistic in Table 11 regarding reports submitted to COPFS in relation to badger persecution reflect the number of reports that were submitted following investigations carried out within the year (April 2017 – March 2018) although these reports were submitted to the fiscal after 31st March 2018.

The incidents in Table 11 also included four relating to trapping or snaring offences.

Significant wildlife cases in 2017-18 included an individual reported for the illegal use of Carbofuran, Illegal snaring and shooting. This was carried out as a joint case with Police Scotland investigating a gamekeeper based on a shooting estate. The individual was also keeping a European Eagle Owl in unacceptable living conditions and was believed to be using this as a decoy bird. He was reported for the killing of over 20+ animals including several species afforded special conditions under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Another case focused on an individual responsible for causing animals to fight. The investigation into this individual revealed that he was responsible for the killing of a number of species including badgers, foxes and deer. This investigation also led to a further 2 cases being identified where individuals were found to be responsible for keeping or training animals for the purpose of an animal fight. Through the analysis of phone footage and seized evidence it is understood that these individuals are responsible for killing over 30 wild animals in Scotland.

The SIU report cases directly to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). As a result, any crimes or suspected crimes investigated solely by the Scottish SPCA will not appear in the Police recorded crime statistics shown in Table 1 of this report. If reported for prosecution however, they will be included in the COPFS figures and those cases will have been given a Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO) number.

Not all incidents identified as crimes will provide sufficient evidence for a prosecution to be progressed to COPFS. Table 12 below shows a five-year summary of wildlife related investigations led by the SIU, including those reported to COPFS.

Table 12 also shows the numbers of investigations where the SIU supported investigations led by Police Scotland. A new database was launched in December 2014 allowing more accurate collation data from that point onwards.

Table 12: Wildlife crime investigations dealt with by , 2013-14 to 2017-18

2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18
Incidents investigated solely by SIU 69 92 96 73 88
Number of cases reported to COPFS 10 6 10 4 -
% reported to COPFS 14% 7% 10% 5% 0%
Police Scotland-led investigations assisted by SIU 70 49 19 42 37
Total 139 141 115 115 125

Source: Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

3.6 National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU)

The National Wildlife Crime Unit has a dedicated intelligence function. In the 2017-18 year, the following bespoke intelligence analysis was provided for Scotland:

  • Update of the Operation Easter target list – to support and direct proactive targeting across Scotland
  • Quarterly submission of Organised Crime Groups with links to Scotland
  • Hotspot mapping completed for the South Scotland Golden Eagle project.
  • Hare Coursing analysis for Police Scotland to provide focus for their proactive days of action.
  • Bespoke Geographical Information Services (GIS) maps to assist active investigations.
  • Provision of two Tactical Assessments to the UK Tasking & Coordination Group for Wildlife Crime, including analysis of all Scottish Wildlife intelligence logs.
  • Responses to statistical queries from academics/media organisations where possible.

In addition, the NWCU’s Scottish Investigative Support Officer (SISO) provides advice and ‘on the ground’ support for wildlife crime investigations. In 2017-18, the NWCU SISO was involved in casework as well as the strategic development of wildlife crime enforcement and intelligence sharing. The SISO gave advice and assistance to Police Scotland Wildlife Crime Liaison Officers and other organisations on numerous occasions and on a variety of subjects including bird, badger, bat, non-native species, freshwater pearl mussel crime, traps, snares, fox hunting, wildlife disturbance, coastal crime and trading in endangered species (CITES).

Throughout the year, contributions were provided to several operations involving

CITES and raptor crime and the annual delivery of Operation Easter to target egg thieves and nest disturbance during the bird breeding season. Crime prevention measures were initiated to mitigate the risks that persecution posed to the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project on both sides of the border. Several searches were undertaken around raptor and badger crime.

The SISO gave presentations at several events throughout the year including local and national Police training, Sharing Good Practice events, PAW Scotland partners and the UK Wildlife Crime Enforcer’s Conference. An on-going element of the role continues to include participation in several PAW Scotland groups (Poaching & Coursing, Media, Freshwater Pearl Mussel and Raptor), Heads up for Harriers project and General Licence restrictions.

The NWCU works with Police Scotland to produce intelligence products which are based upon analysis of intelligence. Table 13 below provides a summary of wildlife crime intelligence logs, broken down by relevant keyword. This table has been included to provide a clearer picture of the spread of wildlife crime intelligence dealt with by Police Scotland and the NWCU and reflects the kind of information which is being reported to the Police.

Table 13: Scottish wildlife crime intelligence logs 2017-18

Keyword Intelligence logs % of total
Hare 156 28.6%
Deer 84 15.4%
Fish 70 12.8%
Badger 26 4.8%
Raptor/Bird of Prey 24 4.4%
CITES 10 1.8%
FWPM/Pearl Mussel 1 0.2%
Bat - 0.0%
All ‘other’ wildlife 174 31.9%
Total 545

Source: Scottish Intelligence Database/NWCU (used with permission of Police Scotland)

It should be noted that an intelligence log is not a detected crime but a tool for Police to use to establish a bigger picture of what is happening in a given area. A single incident may generate a number of pieces of intelligence. Intelligence logs cannot be used to (a) directly compare year on year or (b) comment on long term trends, as they are reviewed on a yearly basis and deleted if grounds for inclusion for policing purposes no longer exist. As a result, the number of intelligence logs for any given year decreases over time.

Table 14 provides a summary of the three most common types of priority intelligence log (i.e. not including the ‘Other’ category) held in the database for 2013-14 to 2017-18.

Table 14: Most common priority intelligence logs 2013-14 to 2017-18

Year Three most common priority intelligence types (as a percentage of the total number of intelligence logs)
2013-14 Fish (20%), deer (16%) and raptor/bird of prey (10%)
2014-15 Fish (18%), raptor/bird of prey (12%) and deer (11%)
2015-16 Fish (21%), hare (17%) and deer (16%)
2016-17 Hare (23%), fish (18%) and deer (17%)
2017-18 Hare (29%), deer (15%) and fish (13%)

Source: Scottish Intelligence Database/NWCU (used with permission of Police Scotland)


Email: leia.fitzgerald@gov.scot

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