This is the ninth Scottish Government annual wildlife crime report, and my first as Minister for Environment and Land Reform. It covers the 2020 calendar year, using recorded statistical data from the 2019-2020 financial year.
As Covid-19 restrictions start to relax, I reflect on the increased interest and sense of wellbeing many of us have found in our local landscapes and the wildlife contained within them. As a country we are placing more importance than ever before on protecting and conserving wildlife.
After a drop in recorded wildlife crime incidents of over 60% between the 2014-15 report and 2018-19, it is frustrating to see an increase of 13% in recorded wildlife crime incidents in 2019-20. Wildlife crime is not only abhorrent, it is also completely at odds with our work to address the biodiversity crisis, which is supported by so many people and organisations across Scotland.
While it is reassuring that incidents of wildlife crime have not returned to previous higher levels, we remain aware that recorded wildlife crime does not provide the full picture. This is an area where the victims are unable to speak for themselves and we know that many wildlife crimes are not witnessed and not reported. This has been especially true in the area of raptor persecution where tagged birds have disappeared in unexplained circumstances and where expected numbers of some species are not present in certain areas.
The Scottish Government has always been clear that wildlife crime is unacceptable, and we have brought forward a number of measures to tackle the issue over the years. These measures have included a poisons amnesty, vicarious liability, restrictions on general licences and most recently, significant increases in penalties for wildlife crimes. I am sure many of you reading this share my frustration that despite these measures there are some who continue to take a selfish, cruel and callous approach to our wildlife.
It is disappointing to see a rise in raptor persecution offences from the previous year. We have committed to taking forward the recommendations made by the Grouse Moor Management Group as a matter of urgency, to tackle this type of offence. We will bring forward legislation during this parliamentary term with the aim of putting in place a meaningful, effective and workable sanctions through a licensing system to deter and punish those who deliberately commit crimes in our uplands, without placing unworkable and disproportionate burdens on the majority who work within the law.
As regards offences relating to hunting with dogs, we committed in the 2021-22 Programme for Government to introduce a bill during this parliamentary year to strengthen the law and introduce other measures such as preventing trail hunting. The Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill was introduced on 24th February 2022 and the Bill will replace existing legislation in this area, making the law clearer and closing loopholes.
My ambition, is to ensure wildlife can thrive across Scotland whilst faced with a range of threats including wildlife crime and habitat loss, which is a very real concern.
That is why the Scottish Government have developed a £65 million package of support specifically for projects that benefit nature. The annual Nature Restoration Fund is designed to deliver multi-partner, multi-year projects that restore and protect habitats, safeguard wildlife and tackle causes of biodiversity loss. The project is currently open to applications for grant funding of up to £250,000 per project over a maximum of two years, with other funding streams to launch later this year. This forms only a small part of our £500 million investment in Scotland's natural habitat with plans to increase peatland restoration, forestry planting, protected areas and introduce nature networks.
Our diverse wildlife brings so many benefits, not only via its contributions to the ecosystems we need to survive, but also by supporting our wellbeing and enriching our lives. I hope the actions I have outlined not only on wildlife crime but also on nature restoration demonstrate the commitment of the Scottish Government to allow wildlife to thrive in a modern Scotland.
Tackling wildlife crime comes through strong partnerships between different organisations and I recognise and thank our key partners in law enforcement and those involved in the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland for continuing their dedicated work in this regard.
Mairi McAllan MSP
Minister for Environment and Land Reform
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