Wildlife crime in Scotland: 2020 annual report

The ninth wildlife crime annual report, with new data from the financial year 2019 to 2020.

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.

Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA)

SASA 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 five financial years ending 30th March 2020, divided into the UK wildlife crime priorities.

Table 8: Scottish wildlife DNA Forensic Unit cases, 2015-16 to 2019-20
Category Scottish cases
2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20
Badger persecution 0 0 1 5 2
Bat persecution 0 0 0 0 0
CITES 2 1 1 1 0
Freshwater pearl mussels 0 0 0 0 0
Poaching and coursing 0 3 3 2 1
Raptor persecution 5 4 5 8 5
Other wildlife crime 0 4 1 2 0
Other (e.g. animal cruelty) 0 2 0 3 2
Total 7 14 11 21 10

Source: SASA

Over the 2019-20 period we had fewer cases submitted than the previous period from Scotland, and the majority of cases continues to relate to raptor persecution. These cases included poisoning and trapping investigations. In the case of poisonings, we identify the meat species from the last meal ingested which indicates what type of bait was used. For trapping investigations, we take samples from the traps (which may contain DNA from multiple species) and apply tests to target the presence of DNA from raptor species. In one case, Hen Harrier DNA was identified and this DNA evidence contributed to a decision by NatureScot to restrict the General License provision for three years on the estate where the traps had been recovered.

The one poaching case over this period related to salmon, and it led to a collaboration with our colleagues at Marine Scotland Science. On this occasion there was insufficient salmon DNA recovered to test for a link between the suspect and the offence, however this collaboration will allow us to provide a better service for salmon poaching investigations.

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 2015-16 to 2019-20 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 in 2019-2020 increased by 12 from 2018-19. 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 (26) followed by companion animals (18). Bird of prey poisoning incidents are covered further in the Raptor Persecution section of this report.

Table 9: Pesticide incidents in Scotland 2015-16 to 2019-20
  2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20
Number of incidents investigated during financial year * 215 205 184 175 217
Number of incidents attributed to pesticides 27 20 17 14 28
Category – Abuse 15 10 10 8 20
% abuse 7 5 5 5 9
No. of abuse incidents involving birds of prey 5 3 4 5 9
No. of abuse incidents involving other birds ** 0 0 1 0 5
No. of abuse incidents involving suspicious baits/substances 1 3 3 3 3
No. of abuse incidents involving companion animals 2 7 3 3 3
No. of abuse incidents involving wild mammals 0 0 0 0 0

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.

SRUC Veterinary Services

SRUC Veterinary Services is a division of Scotland's Rural College (SRUC). While not a government agency, the work of the 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 RSPB and the SSPCA. Small numbers of carcases come from other sources, such as NatureScot, other conservation or wildlife charities, or members of the public. Where a 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 the gathering of evidence related to an investigation, wild bird carcase submissions are used for disease surveillance, notably exotic zoonotic diseases such as avian influenza or West Nile virus.

In 2019-20, there were a total of 125 cases where a suspicion of potential criminality was present upon submission, of which 40 involved mammals and 85 involved birds. These are shown in Table 10 below: please note that the table shows the numbers of post mortem cases. A "case" is usually the submission of a carcase, or of multiple carcases which are closely associated by proximity and timing; the table does not enumerate the carcases or individual police investigations involved.

Table 10: Wildlife cases examined by SRUC Veterinary Services under advisory activity funding, 2015-16 to 2019-20
  2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20
Total wildlife cases examined as possible wildlife crimes 225 172 135* 195 125
Total mammal cases 45 49 31* 53 40
Total mammal cases identified by postmortem as crime related 23 11 13* 21 17
% of mammal cases identified by post mortem as crime related 51% 22% 42% 40% 42.5%
Total bird cases 180 123 104 142 85
Total bird cases identified by post mortem as crime related 22 13 18 22 27
% of bird cases identified by post mortem as crime related 12% 11% 17% 15% 32%

Source: SRUC Veterinary Services

Every year, there are some avian and mammalian cases in which the degradation of the submitted carcase precludes the chance of a diagnosis; but in the majority of cases, a diagnosis is achieved. With regard to the causes of death or injury in mammalian cases, road traffic collision was the most common cause of death overall. Attack by a dog or dogs was the most common cause of death or injury recorded in those cases where evidence of potential criminality was found. Shooting, injury caused by snaring, and injuries consistent with attack by a person were also reported. Mammalian cases covered a wide range of species including squirrels, hares, otters, badgers, foxes, and deer.

In avian cases, the range of species submitted included buzzards, kites, owls, hawks, eagles, songbirds, pigeons, swans, geese, corvids and capercaillie. Causes of death or injury were most commonly due to trauma not suspected to be criminal in nature, such as collisions with road traffic, electricity pylons or wind turbines, and other objects. Infection, parasitism and starvation/failure to thrive were also prominent causes of mortality. Shooting (mainly by firearm but also by dart and catapult) and poisoning were the two most commonly reported findings where evidence of potential criminality was recorded. These poison abuse incidents are confirmed by testing at SASA, and so the same cases referred to in this table also appear in Table 9.

NatureScot – 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, NatureScot 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 NatureScot 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. NatureScot 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.

NatureScot 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.

A General Licence restriction was implemented on an area of land in South Lanarkshire in November 2019 for a period of three years. Details of these can be found on the NatureScot website; www.nature.scot

Over the winter of 2018/19 NatureScot undertook a public consultation on General Licences for birds as part of a review of General Licences. The consultation sought views on the efficacy of the licences and justification for the species appearing within them. Over 800 responses were received from industry organisations, stakeholders and individuals. In April 2019 NatureScot amended the General Licences by removing species where there was insufficient evidence to support their inclusion or where there were overriding conservation concerns, including the impacts of operating under General Licences on Protected Sites. NatureScot also took over management of the crow trap register from Police Scotland at this time.

On the 1st May 2019 beaver were awarded European Protected Species status by the Scottish Government. NatureScot developed a licensing system and comprehensive guidance for the licensed control of beavers to prevent damage. As part of the licensing system those controlling beavers were required to attend workshops, held throughout Tayside (where conflict between beavers and agriculture were most likely) in order to obtain accredited controller status.

A report 'NatureScot Beaver Licensing summary - 1st May to 31st December 2019' is available on the NatureScot website summarising beaver licensing during this time www.nature.scot

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.

Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA) and their Special Investigations Unit (SIU) can 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. The SIU has a slightly different remit dealing with cases which are linked to illegal activities often involving serious and organised crime groups. The 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 133,000 calls between April 2019 and March 2020. Although the number of calls to the animal helpline has decreased by almost 14% compared to the previous fiscal year 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 consistent in comparison to the previous year.

The SIU estimate that between April 2019 and March 2020 they received:

  • 628 pieces of information for consideration from the Scottish SPCA helpline
  • 567 pieces of information from other sources. Some pieces of information may relate to incidents that after investigation are found to not 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 2019 to March 2020
Type of wildlife crime Pieces of information identified as crime Reported to COPFS
Badger persecution 25 5
Illegal trade (CITES) 1 1
Raptor Persecution 14 2
Bat Persecution 0 0
Poaching and coursing 12 0
Freshwater pearl mussels 0 0
Other 22 1
Total 74 9

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 2019 – March 2020) although these reports may have been submitted to the fiscal after 31st March 20120. The incidents in Table 11 also included ten relating to trapping or snaring offences.

Significant wildlife cases in 2019-20 included an individual who had submitted photographs to an online company to be produced as a photograph booklet. These photographs included graphic imagery of badger baiting and animal fighting. After carrying out open source research all individuals within the images were successfully identified and warrants were executed on a high profile game and shooting estate in Scotland. A further three warrants were executed in relation to these images resulting in two case reports being submitted to the Procurator Fiscal. Offences included animal fighting as well as several charges of causing unnecessary suffering.

The SIU report cases directly to 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 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 number of investigations where the SIU supported investigations led by Police Scotland.

Table 12: Wildlife crime investigations dealt with by SIU, 2015-16 to 2019-20
  2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20
Incidents investigated solely by SIU 96 73 88 112 103
Number of cases reported to COPFS 10 4 0 9 9
% reported to COPFS 10% 5% 0% 8% 9%
Police Scotland-led investigations assisted by SIU 19 42 37 42 44
Total 115 115 125 154 147

Source: Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU)

The National Wildlife Crime Unit has a dedicated intelligence function. In the 2019-20 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
  • Consultation on the use of illegal wildlife trade seizure data that NWCU supply to the EU-TWIX[1] network on behalf of all UK police forces
  • Maps in relation to venison dealers to support the Scottish Poaching Priority Delivery Group
  • Intelligence research for Police Scotland in relation to Raptor Persecution.
  • Organisational Structure Charts for Police Scotland
  • Documents and advice given during induction for new Police Wildlife Liaison Officers
  • Land Ownership information provided to support active enquiries
  • Quarterly submission of Organised Crime Groups with links to Scotland
  • Quarterly submission of reports to the Acquisitive Crime Threat Group which includes all links to Scottish investigations
  • Provision of two Tactical Assessments to the UK Tasking & Coordination Group for Wildlife Crime, including analysis of all Scottish Wildlife intelligence logs

In addition, the NWCU's Scottish Investigative Support Officer (SISO) provides advice and 'on the ground' support for wildlife crime investigations. In 2019-2020, the NWCU ISO 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 crimes against raptors, bats, non-native species, freshwater pearl mussels, traps, snares, wildlife disturbance, coastal crime, hare coursing, venison dealing and trading in endangered species (CITES).

Throughout the year, contributions were provided to several operations involving raptor crime and the annual delivery of Operation Easter to target egg thieves and nest disturbance during the bird breeding season. Crime prevention measures to mitigate the risks that persecution posed to the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project on both sides of the border continued and similar measures were taken in partnership with the Cairngorm National Park Authority to safeguard satellite tagged eagles in the Cairngorms.

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.

Charlie Everitt retired from the SISO role at the end of January 2020 and was succeeded by PC Gavin Ross.

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 2019-20
Keyword Intelligence logs % of total
Hare 113 25.3%
Deer 69 15.5%
Fish 63 14.1%
Badger 21 4.7%
Raptor/Bird of Prey 14 3.1%
CITES 2 0.4%
FWPM/Pearl Mussel 2 0.4%
Bat 1 0.2%
All 'other' wildlife 161 36.1%
Total 446

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 2015-16 to 2019-20.

Table 14: Most common priority NWCU intelligence logs 2015-16 to 2019-20
Year Three most common priority intelligence types (as a percentage of the total number of intelligence logs)
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%)
2018-19 Hare (25%), deer (21%) and fish (11%)
2019-20 Hare (25%), deer (15%) and fish (14%)

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


Email: john.gray@gov.scot

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