Wildlife crime in Scotland: 2018 annual report

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

5. PAW Scotland

The Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland consists of law enforcement bodies, wildlife and animal welfare charities, land management organisations and government agencies, working together to fight wildlife crime.

The partnership is supported by the Scottish Government. Its work is overseen by an Executive Group, comprising representatives of selected stakeholders and the chairs of PAW Scotland sub-groups and wildlife crime priority groups based in Scotland. A wider Plenary Group, made up of representatives of all PAW Scotland member organisations, meets to give an opportunity to all members to comment on PAW projects and raise any wildlife crime issues. Both these groups are chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform.

The Executive group met in February 2018, the Plenary group met in October 2018. The latest information on the activities and membership of the partnership is available on the PAW Scotland website at www.PAW.Scotland.gov.uk.

PAW Scotland Sub-Groups

PAW Scotland operates a number of sub-groups focusing on a particular aspect of wildlife crime work. A summary of the 2018 work of these groups is provided below.

Legislation, Regulation and Guidance Sub-group

The Group met in February and November 2018. Discussions centred on progress towards legislation on various wildlife issues, including the protection of beavers and implementation of the Poustie Review, whilst the group noted developments such as the establishment of the Grouse Moor Management Review. Also considered was the position on environmental governance after Brexit, noting the commitments made in the “Backstop” to the Withdrawal Agreement agreed in late 2018 on the establishment of a body to enforce environmental laws.

Other substantive issues considered included:

  • the availability to the police and others of data from satellite tags attached to birds, noting that delays in access to such data may adversely affect the investigation of incidents which may involve criminal offences - aspects of the topic include the ownership of and access to the data and how far regulation of this area can be achieved through the use of revised conditions attached to the licences authorising the fitting of tags (even though the tags may be operated by others);
  • the introduction by Natural England of a charge for licences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, authorising action in relation to protected species;
  • the workings of the law protecting bats, since although formally involving a breach of the law it seems unlikely that there will be prosecutions where bats are disturbed unknowingly;
  • the workings of the law on venison dealing licences, noting that with no licence being required in England, the licensing system, even if fully complied with, would not provide a full report of the venison taken in Scotland - there has been liaison on this with the Poaching and Coursing Group;
  • the overlapping responsibilities for marine matters, especially at salmon farms, where different authorities had different powers and options for enforcement action open to them, a matter subsequently explored further with Marine Scotland;
  • the impact of the new laws on the kinds of trap authorised for mammals (implementing the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards) and how the risk of by-catches is controlled.

Training and Awareness Sub-group

Partner organisations continued to work closely in 2018 to offer training to both Police Scotland and other PAW members.

A one day Wildlife Crime Officer Awareness course was held in October 2018 at Scottish Police College, Tulliallan. Forty officers from across Police Scotland (including Specialist Departments) received inputs covering the six priorities as well as basics on traps and snares, the work of SNH Licensing and the NWCU. In addition to this, a number of local divisional training days were arranged for officers in conjunction with PAW partners which proved very successful.

BASC provided a number of training inputs across the country to part time wildlife crime officers. Training was undertaken to improve an officers understanding of issues and challenges surrounding snares and their application.

Police Scotland, SASA and COPFS WECU representatives attended the 30th UK Wildlife Enforcers Conference in November 2018. The annual conference is where law enforcers, statutory agencies and NGOs gather to hear the latest views, approaches, successes and challenges of combating wildlife crime in the UK. Police Scotland provided an update on the position in Scotland.

NWCU social media campaign “Undisturbed” was successfully launched in 2018. It is hoped that with increased awareness surrounding wildlife disturbances there will be a reduction of incidents caused by members of the public and wildlife photographers.

Sharing good practice events hosted by SNH covered an array of topics including coastal and marine wildlife crime and the topic of satellite tagging. It provided an opportunity for police to gain a better understanding of issues and network with species experts. The events delivered key and important information to better equip police officers response and understanding of marine crime and “stop, non-malfunction” raptor disappearances. Both events were well attended and generated much discussion.

A new Wildlife Crime Investigators course with a greater focus on investigative tactics and forensics is currently in development taking cognisance of the exceptionally specialist and challenging area of policing. The new course will commence in early 2020.


The PAW Funding group met in February 2018. The group made some changes to the PAW funding priorities and selection criteria including; the promotion of inclusivity; allow funding to be available to projects from public, private and voluntary sectors both within and outwith PAW Scotland and the requirement for completed projects to report the outcomes back to the relevant PAW sub-group.

The group funded the following projects in 2018;

  • PhD research with the University of Edinburgh to establish a hen harrier DNA database to help prove criminal ‘possession’ in wildlife crime investigations.
  • RSPB investigations team, a specialist team delivering awareness raising, crime prevention and detection functions. Assisting Police Scotland in criminal investigations.
  • A project to develop satellite tags with the ability to provide an emergency signal upon the death of the tagged bird and/or destruction of the tag.
  • A project to install cameras on high persecution risk freshwater pearl mussel in partnership with the West Sutherland Fisheries Trust.


The Media Sub-group met in November 2018 and continued work to tighten and strengthen the protocol governing the ways in which partner organisations share news releases and respond to media enquiries. The group also focused on increasing the PAW Scotland presence on social media with reminders to partners to share stories and events for wider distribution.

In response to the call for review of the current PAWS structure, the group explored the option to take over some of the ‘awareness’ remit from the Training & Awareness sub-group.

The group produced a number of pieces e.g. on the theft of eggs from a golden eagle nest; the misuse of drones disturbing wildlife; an appeal for information after a series of animal and wildlife poisoning in Perth and the recording of novel hen harrier behavior by the Heads up for Harriers scheme.


Two meetings of the group were held in 2018, in June and October.

The Group welcomed the publication of Mcleish et al (2018) “Profiling in wildlife crime: Recovery of human DNA deposited outside.” This research was initiated by PAW Scotland and carried out by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) Forensic Services, the Scottish Government and the University of Strathclyde. It established that human DNA can be recovered from traps that have been outside for at least 10 days and from rabbit baits and bird carcasses after at least 24 hours, opening up new avenues for forensic testing in wildlife crime investigations. Three of the authors are or were members of the Science Group.

Following the above publication, SAC and SASA staff have been trained by SPA on procedures for the retrieval of human DNA from carcasses suspected of being involved in wildlife crime. Collection procedures have been standardised to enable sample processing by the SPA. This has facilitated the inclusion of human DNA testing for crimes such as poaching and raptor persecution, where the offender is believed to have handled the carcass, and is expected to improve the likelihood of successful prosecution outcomes.

The Group also considered areas for funding as well as aspirational project ideas that refer to PAW national priorities. Funding proposals include further analysis of raptor persecution data and investigation of causes of breeding failure and nesting territory occupancy and an analysis of all raptor carcasses submitted for examination, looking at those with and without criminal involvement. The Group also supports work to forensically validate animal DNA profiling techniques for more species involved in wildlife crime (such as bait species) as well as validated protocols for the detection of novel compounds that could be used as poisons.

Other projects could include a pilot study into the possibility of a chemical (or alternative) test to link shotgun pellets found within a victim to a specific cartridge or batch of cartridges and the development of a non-DNA test to determine whether a peregrine is captive-bred or wild caught.

Charlie Everitt of the NWCU joined the Group and Lucy Webster has stood down as chair, after five years. Colin Shedden now chairs the Group.

FWPM priority delivery group

The overall objective of the FWPM priority delivery group remains to raise awareness of the threat posed by criminality and help communities in hotspots to prevent criminality and identify offenders.

The FWPM delivery group continued to be active in 2017-18. Following completion of the Pearls in Peril LIFE+ project in March 2017, Police Scotland continued proactive, intelligence-led patrols with partner organisations to help detect and deter suspicious activity in priority local rivers in the Highlands and Outer Hebrides.

Awareness raising included the work of the priority delivery group appearing on BBC Scotland, Landward TV and Out of Doors radio programmes. During filming a pearl fishing kill was also detected, with investigations ongoing since. The group also presented at the UK enforcers conference.

Work to deter pearl fishing at vulnerable locations was also initiated in Sutherland and was judged to be successful with no further illegal pearl fishing detected during 2018.

Information and ideas were also shared with colleagues in England and Wales.

Poaching and coursing priority group

The Poaching and Coursing Priority Delivery Group continued its work to advise and support the Police and others, particularly in respect of increasing of awareness of crime and promoting better reporting of offences.

Work of the Group included:

  • Local authority venison dealer licence returns being collated and subsequently tabulated with intention to be mapped to show where gaps may occur
  • Incident notebooks being circulated at the Royal Highland Show, Scone Game Fair and other local shows
  • Various media releases around local hare coursing being published
  • Liaison with Food Standards Scotland as they continue work around the game and venison industry
  • Training on salmon poaching, deer poaching and hare coursing being provided to Police officers at national and local level
  • Some joint patrols between water bailiffs and Police officers to further enforcement and understanding of salmon poaching
  • Wildlife Crime Officers giving training to Communications Centre staff to assist in how they record wildlife crime incidents, including poaching and coursing
  • Joint venison dealer visits undertaken by SNH and police
  • SNH writing to all venison dealers to remind them of their responsibilities regarding deer seasons

Reports from the Courts indicated that some hare coursing cases were successfully prosecuted.

PAW Scotland Raptor group

The Raptor Group, chaired by Police Scotland, continued to consider prevention, intelligence and enforcement issues surrounding the persecution of birds of prey. The group met in February 2018 and January 2019.

Police Scotland provided updates on reported crimes involving raptor species and all partners were asked to brief the group in respect of on-going work they are involved in to tackle raptor persecution. Activities included the creation of the annual bird of prey persecution maps and the on-going work on the Hen Harrier Action Plan.

As with previous years, the Heads Up for Harriers project continued to be the largest single project for the group; the aim of the project is to understand the distribution of hen harriers and why nests fail. The project uncovered new scientific evidence of predation of chicks by short eared owls. 2018 saw two estates newly participating in Heads Up for Harriers, both successfully fledged harriers for the first time in many years.

South of Scotland Golden Eagles project released 3 birds into the Border hills during the summer of 2018. Maps detailing areas of risk in ‎Southern Scotland and Northern England where produced by NWCU and joint visits with Police to key risk areas were undertaken. All divisional wildlife officers have met with SSGE staff and been briefed on the project and receive regular updates. As part of the five year project, further satellite tagging of translocated eagles will take place in summer 2019. The project continues to have excellent support from estates and is a great example of joint working.

Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) are planning to fit a number of satellite tags with new tracking technology. It is hoped the new technology will have the capability to pin point the exact last location. This work will be in collaboration with various partners.

The Group discussed redefining the focus of the group in terms of being more crime orientated. There is a desire in the group to be more task orientated and follow the Prevention/Intelligence/Enforcement themes. Closer engagement between Wildlife Crime Liaison Officers, firearms licencing and rural crime constables will secure community intelligence.


Email: leia.fitzgerald@gov.scot

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