Publication - Progress report

Wildlife crime in Scotland: 2017 annual report

Published: 21 Dec 2018
Directorate:
Environment and Forestry Directorate
Part of:
Environment and climate change
ISBN:
9781787814967

The sixth wildlife crime annual report, with new data from the financial year 2016 to 2017.

92 page PDF

3.6 MB

92 page PDF

3.6 MB

Contents
Wildlife crime in Scotland: 2017 annual report
2. Headline trends

92 page PDF

3.6 MB

2. Headline trends

This chapter outlines the main trends in wildlife crime recorded by the police, reports of those charged by the police and processed by COPFS and numbers of people proceeded against in court.

2.1 Recorded crime

Table 1 provides a summary of the different types of wildlife crime recorded by the police over the five year period to 2016-17. These recorded crime statistics are Scottish Government statistical output derived from Police Scotland's recorded crime database.

In 2016-17 there were 231 offences relating to wildlife recorded by the police. This represents a decrease of around 11% in comparison with 2015-16 (261 recorded offences).

Fish poaching (68 offences) remained the most commonly recorded type of offence, accounting for around 29% of all wildlife offences in 2016-17. Offences relating to birds (50 offences) were the second most commonly recorded type of wildlife crime.

The biggest change was in hunting with dogs offences, which were down 50%, from 44 in 2015-16 to 22 in 2016-17.

Table 1: Wildlife crime recorded by Police Scotland, 2012-13 to 2016-17

Offences relating to: 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Badgers* 1 7 5 4 6
Birds 64 53 49 46 50
Conservation (protected sites) 0 1 1 5 1
Cruelty to wild animals 27 22 38 22 24
Deer 33 20 24 13 14
Fish poaching 135 90 101 75 68
Hunting with dogs 32 29 20 44 22
Poaching and game laws 1 4 2 0 6
Other wildlife offences 26 29 44 52 40
Total 319 255 284 261 231

Source: Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2016-17
* Offences recorded under Protection of Badgers Act 1992 only

Table 2 presents the distribution of the types of wildlife crime between different Police Scotland divisions in 2016-17.

Table 2: Wildlife crime recorded, by Police Scotland Division, 2016-17

Offences relating to: North East Argyll & West Dunbartonshire Ayrshire Dumfries & Galloway Edinburgh Fife Forth Valley Greater Glasgow Highland & Islands Lanarkshire Renfrewshire & Inverclyde Tayside The Lothians & Scottish Borders Total
Badgers 1 0 0 1 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6
Birds 5 0 3 1 6 4 2 1 17 1 0 7 3 50
Conservation (protected sites) 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Cruelty to wild animals 7 2 4 0 2 0 2 0 5 1 1 0 0 24
Deer 2 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 7 0 1 0 0 14
Fish poaching 11 9 8 0 0 0 9 2 23 0 4 2 0 68
Hunting with dogs 3 0 0 4 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 3 10 22
Poaching and game laws 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 3 0 6
Other wildlife offences 3 0 0 3 1 1 3 0 4 1 0 19 5 40
Total 33 14 15 9 12 8 16 4 58 3 7 34 18 231

Source: Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2016-17

The highest number of wildlife offences in 2016-17 were recorded in Highland and Islands (58), followed by Tayside (34) and North East (33). Table 2 also shows that almost half of all hunting with dogs offences were recorded in Lothian & Borders Division (10 of 22). 34% of all fish poaching offences were recorded in Highland & Islands.

2.2 Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Statistics

Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Logo

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service's (COPFS) dedicated Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit (WECU) has been in operation since 15 August 2011. WECU investigates and manages the prosecution of all cases involving crimes against wildlife.

Case work of the Wildlife Environmental Crime Unit in 2016-17

Table 3 shows the breakdown of wildlife cases received by COPFS in each of the financial years 2012-13 to 2016-17, following the standard categories used elsewhere in this report. Further information on the COPFS data is available in Appendix 2 - Notes and Definitions for COPFS Data.

Table 3: Wildlife cases received by COPFS in 2012-13 to 2016-17

Offences relating to: 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Badgers * 0 * * *
Birds 20 21 (6) 17 15 (5) 24
Cruelty to wild animals 7 10 11 * 8
Deer 8 * 5 * *
Fish poaching 55 60 38 30 35
Hunting with dogs 9 13 6 15 7
Other wildlife offences 23 17 17 20 14
Other conservation offences * 0 0 * *
Total 126 (15) 125 (13) 98 (7) 90 (9) 94 (5)

Source: Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
*= data suppressed. See Appendix 2.

The figures in brackets in Table 3 indicate the number of reports submitted by the Scottish SPCA. Where fewer than five cases were reported in any category either in total or by the Scottish SPCA, the figures have been removed from the table.

The outcomes of these cases are shown in Table 4 below.

Table 4: Outcomes of all wildlife cases reported to COPFS in 2012-13 to 2016-17


2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
No action 35 30 24 40 27
Alternative to prosecution 30 30 34 27 35
Prosecuted 61 (9) 65 (7) 40 23 32
of which convicted 44 47 28 16 25
Total number of reports received 126 (15) 125 (13) 98 (7) 90 (9) 94 (5)

Source: Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

The figures in brackets in Table 4 indicate the number of reports submitted by the Scottish SPCA. Where fewer than five cases were reported in any category either in total or by the Scottish SPCA, the figures have been removed from the table.

The following information relates to cases reported in 2016-17. Prosecution in court was undertaken in 32 cases (34% of cases received). Of these:

  • 25 cases resulted in a conviction for either a wildlife offence or offences of an associated non-wildlife offence (81% of cases prosecuted)
  • Proceedings were discontinued by the prosecutor in five cases (16% of cases prosecuted) where for example, further investigation disclosed that that there was insufficient admissible evidence

Thirty five cases were dealt with by an alternative to prosecution (37% of cases received).

Fiscal fines were issued in 24 cases i.e. 26% of cases received. Other disposals included warning letters and referral to the Reporter to the Children’s Panel.

No action for alleged wildlife offending was taken in 27 cases (29% of cases received); although a small number of these cases were prosecuted for associated offending and resulted in convictions. In all 27 cases, no action was taken for legal reasons including:

  • circumstances that did not constitute a crime and
  • instances where there was insufficient evidence to permit proceedings

Further information about cases received in 2016-17:-

  • A total of 21 reports related to incidents involving birds, their nests or eggs
  • Of these, six reports involved alleged offences against birds of prey
  • 14 cases involved activity targeting hares or rabbits
  • Ten cases involved dogs
  • All seven cases in the "Hunting with dogs" category related to allegations of hare coursing
  • Six cases involved firearms
  • Five cases under "Other wildlife offences" included alleged Control of Trade in Endangered Species (COTES) offences.

The subject matter of other reports included circumstances involving badgers, the use of cross bows or sling shots, contraventions of the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulations 1994 and releasing or allowing to escape, an animal included in Part I of Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Further details of case outcomes in the individual categories are provided in Appendix 2A - Further information on COPFS Case Outcomes.

Notable cases

Two individuals were fined £1000 and £500 each for offences under section 1(1)(a) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. On one occasion, a gull was chased by an individual who repeatedly fired a slingshot at it, injuring the bird and leaving it unable to fly. They then stood on its head before picking up the bird and returning with it to a car which was then driven off. Later, a slingshot was fired from the same vehicle and the second individual left the car, returning with an oystercatcher which he swung around by the neck.

Two individuals were each fined £360 for an offence under section 9(1) of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003. They were found in possession of a fish and tackle in circumstances which afforded reasonable grounds for suspecting that they had obtained possession of the items as the result, or for the purpose, of committing an offence under provisions of the Act.

Police responded to a report of gun shots near Eliburn Reservoir, Livingston where they found an individual carrying a magpie which had been shot with an air rifle. They were fined £200 for contravening section 1(1)(a) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the air rifle was forfeited by the court.

An individual advertised for sale a tiger’s head, tiger claws and leopard claw on the Gumtree and eBay websites, in contravention of the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997. They were fined £1,000 and the court ordered the forfeiture of the tiger’s head.

An individual was fined £5,000 for hare coursing in contravention of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002. They were also disqualified from having custody of any dog for five years. Two others were involved and fined £1,200 and £600 respectively.

An individual killed three rabbits by “lamping” i.e. shining a torch on them and causing dogs to pursue and kill them. The Sheriff imposed a community payback order with a requirement to carry out 40 hours unpaid work.

An individual was fined £350 for using a .22 rifle in connection with the killing or taking of a roe deer which is not permitted by the Deer (Firearms etc.) (Scotland) Order 1985.

2.3 Criminal proceedings statistics

Table 5 shows the number of people proceeded against in Scottish courts and the relevant conviction rates for wildlife offences between 2012-13 and 2016-17. Please note that this table is a summary and a breakdown of proceedings for specific offences is provided at Appendix 3 - Court proceedings and penalties data by specific offence.

Criminal Proceedings statistics are not directly comparable with the recorded crime or COPFS figures presented above for a number of reasons. Please see section 2.4 for further explanation.

Table 5: People proceeded against in Scottish Courts for wildlife crimes1, 2012-13 to 2016-17

Offences relating to: 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 Last five financial years
Total proceedings Conviction rate
Badgers - - 2 - - 2 100%
Birds 19 10 8 5 4 46 83%
Cruelty to wild animals 9 4 3 6 2 24 67%
Deer 3 5 2 - 1 11 64%
Hunting with dogs 11 9 3 5 8 36 69%
Poaching and game laws 1 - - - - 1 100%
Fish poaching 23 43 19 8 5 98 79%
Conservation (protected sites) - - - - - - -
Other wildlife offences 11 9 14 1 3 38 71%
Total proceeded against 77 80 51 25 23 256 75%
Total guilty 56 60 35 20 22

% guilty 73% 75% 69% 80% 96%

Total number of offences proceeded against2 168 168 158 75 59

Total number of offences found guilty2 75 100 66 35 32

% guilty2 45% 60% 42% 47% 54%

Source: Scottish Government Criminal Proceedings Database
1 Where main charge
2 All charges

There were 23 people proceeded against for wildlife related offences in 2016-17, an 8% decrease from 2015-16 (25 people). The largest decrease for specific categories was in ‘cruelty to wild animals’ (two persons proceeded against compared to six in 2015-16). There was, however, a small increase in the number of proceedings for hunting with dogs offences, up to eight in 2016-17 from five in 2015-16.

Table 5 also shows that the conviction rate for all wildlife offences once again increased and is now the highest it has been in the last five years, reaching 96% in 2016-17. Conviction rates for individual wildlife crime categories have been presented as a five year average due to the small numbers of proceedings for some categories. This shows that the highest conviction rates were for offences involving badgers, along with poaching and game laws (both 100%) although it should be noted that these were very small sample sizes. The lowest conviction rate over the five year period was for offences involving deer.

Although a single court proceeding can involve a number of different offences, it should be noted that Criminal Proceedings statistics only report on the ‘main charge’. Unless otherwise stated, proceedings and convictions for wildlife crimes referred to in this section are for when the wildlife crime was the main charge in a single court proceeding. For example, if a shotgun offence receives a higher penalty than a wildlife offence in the same proceeding, the shotgun offence would be counted, not the wildlife offence. To illustrate the difference, the total number of individual wildlife offence convictions in each year, regardless of whether the wildlife offence was the main charge or not, are presented at the bottom of Table 5. In 2016-17 court proceedings were held covering a total of 59 wildlife crime offences, in comparison to the 23 proceedings where wildlife crime was the main charge in a case.

Tables 6 and 7 present information on penalties issued for wildlife crime convictions and have been presented as aggregate figures due to the small numbers of proceedings for some crime categories in individual years.

Table 6 shows that the most common punishment for a wildlife crime conviction is still a monetary fine, with 68% of convictions receiving this type of penalty in 2016-17, this up from 55% in 2015-16.

Table 6: People with a charge* proved for wildlife crimes in Scottish Courts, by main penalty, 2012-13 to 2016-17


2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
People proceeded against 77 80 51 25 23
People with a charge proved 56 60 35 20 22
Of which received:




Custody 1 1 1 1 1
Community sentence 8 4 2 4 5
Monetary 33 43 28 11 15
Other 14 12 4 4 1

Source: Criminal Proceedings Statistics
* Where main charge

In Table 7, aggregate totals for the five years from 2012-13 to 2016-17 show that monetary punishments are mostly likely to be given for nearly all wildlife crime types, with the exception of offences relating to badgers, where community sentences were the more commonly given. Only 2.5% of all wildlife crime convictions resulted in a custodial sentence.

Average fines and custodial sentences are also presented in Table 7. It is not possible to establish the average number of Community Payback Order (CPO) hours as this information is not held in the Criminal Proceedings database nor is it available for other types of crime.

Table 7 People with a charge* proved for wildlife crimes in Scottish Courts, by main penalty and wildlife crime, 2012-13 to 2016-17

Offences relating to: 2012-13 to 2016-17 totals Average
Total with a charge proved Custody Community sentence Monetary Other Custodial sentence length (days) Monetary fine (£)
Badgers 2 - 2 - - - -
Birds 38 2 7 23 6 152 928
Cruelty to wild animals 16 - 4 8 4 - 404
Deer 7 - 1 6 - - 517
Hunting with dogs 25 3 6 13 3 131 393
Poaching and game laws 1 - - - 1 - -
Fish poaching 77 - 2 59 16 - 253
Other wildlife offences 27 - 1 21 5 - 485
Totals 193 5 23 130 35 139 445

Source: Criminal Proceedings Statistics
*
Where main charge

2.4 a data sources

While the criminal justice IT systems represented in Tables 1 to 7 have common standards in terms of classifying crimes and penalties, care should be taken when comparing the different sets of statistics (Tables 1 to 7):

  • Prosecutions may not happen or be concluded in the same year as a crime was recorded by Police Scotland. Timing is also an issue when comparing COPFS figures (which refer to prosecutions brought in respect of cases reported to COPFS in each financial year) and Criminal Proceedings statistics (which represent only prosecutions commenced and, of those, prosecutions concluded to the point of conviction, in each financial year)
  • In the Police Scotland recorded crime statistics, a single crime or offence recorded by the police may have more than one perpetrator. By comparison the court statistics measure individuals who are proceeded against, which may be for more than one crime. As outlined above, only the main charge in a prosecution is presented for criminal proceeding statistics
  • There is the possibility that the crime or offence recorded by Police Scotland may be altered e.g. when Police Scotland submit a report of alleged offending to COPFS, and COPFS may alter the charges during their case marking process, which makes it difficult to track crimes through the criminal justice process
  • Additionally, crimes and offences alleged to have been committed by children less than 16 years old are not included in the criminal proceedings statistics as these are representative of activity in the adult courts. Juveniles are generally processed through the children’s hearings system

Contact

Email: Hugh Dignon