This is the eighth Scottish Government annual wildlife crime report, and personally my fifth and last as Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. It covers the 2019 calendar year, using recorded statistical data from the 2018-2019 financial year.
My portfolio covers a broad range of environmental issues, including biodiversity, animal welfare and of course, wildlife crime. Scotland's rich and diverse natural environment is one of our most important national assets. It is fundamental to our health, wellbeing and our way of life.
While biodiversity and natural beauty are precious in and of themselves, we also know that our natural environment is of great economic significance, contributing to sustainable and inclusive growth in a number of different ways.
But we face significant challenges in the form of climate change and biodiversity loss. The Scottish Parliament has legislated for the world's most ambitious emissions reduction framework - with a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2045. We recently published our Climate Change Plan update which sets out how we intend to meet these targets. We are leading the way on tackling the twin crises of climate change and ecological decline are ensuring the protection of Scotland's wonderful wildlife, including some species found only in Scotland.
Addressing wildlife crime is essential to this, making it a key priority both for this Government and for me personally. I want to see an end to the illegal persecution of our wildlife and to the outdated and selfish attitudes of people who abuse wildlife for their own ends.
In the last decade, we have developed a range of measures aimed at tackling this issue. For example we brought in vicarious liability for certain wildlife offences, we ran a very successful disposal scheme for illegal pesticides, and have introduced restrictions for users of General Licences for those operating on land where it is suspected that wildlife crime has taken place.
In June this year, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers)(Scotland) Act, that increased the maximum penalties for over 50 separate wildlife offences and allowed Police Scotland more time to investigate these crimes. The most serious wildlife crimes will now attract a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both, the toughest penalties in the UK.
In addition to this, we commissioned and have responded to the recommendations of Professor Werritty in his review of grouse moor management. We accepted all recommendations including that a 'licensing scheme be introduced for the shooting of grouse' and will begin developing a licensing scheme now.
I hope that these significant actions indicate how seriously both the Government and the public view these crimes and make it clear to anyone who continues to commit these acts that it will not be tolerated in Scotland.
My thanks go to our dedicated partners in law enforcement and the members of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland for their hard work protecting and conserving our wildlife.
Roseanna Cunningham MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform