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 twice in 2017, in March and September. The Plenary group did not meet in 2017. 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 2017 work of these groups is provided below.
Legislation, Regulation and Guidance Sub-group
With other meetings very late in 2016 and early in 2018, the Group met only once in 2017, in May.
Issues that were considered included:
- a note by Professor Reid on the ownership of carcases etc. of wild birds and animals, noting that the position in Scots law is essentially that these are owned by the person who first takes possession of them, regardless of whether they are doing so in breach of any criminal law or the rights of anyone else;
- the recent cases where prosecutions were discontinued because of concerns over the admissibility of covertly obtained video evidence, and the consequent correspondence between the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee and COPFS on the law regarding the admissibility of evidence surveillance evidence and covert surveillance;
- the outcome of the judicial review actions which had upheld the restrictions on using general licences to authorise action against birds in areas with a record of wildlife crime;
- a note by Professor. Reid on the legal position on the use of drones to assist in killing or capturing species, noting the potential for existing secondary legislation on approved/prohibited methods to be used to address any specific problems;
- the decision by the UK government not to take action on the Law Commission’s report on Wildlife Crime (largely for Brexit-related reasons);
- the potential of any forthcoming legislative vehicles for implementing the recommendations of the Bonomy (hunting) and Poustie (penalties for wildlife crime) reviews.
Training and Awareness Sub-group
The group met in Spring 2017. Partner organisations continued to work closely in 2017 to offer training to both Police Scotland and other PAW members.
A one day Wildlife Crime Officer Awareness course was held in October 2017 at Tulliallan. Forty officers from across Police Scotland (including Special Constables) received inputs covering the six priorities as well as basics on traps/snares (provided by SASA), the work of SNH Licensing and the NWCU. A member of the RSPB Investigations Team provided the raptor persecution input on this occasion. In addition to this, there was a number of local divisional training days 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. Attendees were offered the opportunity to officially qualify in the use of snares (and thereby allowing registration).
Police Scotland, SASA and COPFS WECU representatives attended the 29th UK Wildlife Enforcers Conference in November 2017. 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.
The PAW Funding group met in March 2017. Discussions were held to review of the existing PAW funding commitments. The Funding Group previously agreed that both the NWCU, SISO and RSPB Investigation projects should fall out with the remit of the PAW Funding Sub Group and will be developed separately, so that work is on-going in terms of planning for 18/19.
The group also previously agreed that funding should be driven by the strategic direction of PAW Scotland, that funding priorities need to be identified prior to securing funds and the existing PAW Sub Groups. With that in mind, the Funding group have contacted PAW Subgroups and local PAW Groups in Grampian and Highland to provide;
a) an overview of all existing projects
b) the Sub Group’s priorities for intelligence, prevention and enforcement
c) project ideas
In 2017 the PAW Funding Sub- Group continued to provide funding to support the work of both the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s Scottish Investigation Support Officer, and the RSPB’s Investigation Team as part of a three year funding commitment which began in 2015.
The Media Sub-group met in April and November 2017.
The group continued work to tighten and strengthen the protocol governing the ways in which partner organisations share news releases and respond to media enquiries. This work has continued with increasing focus on social media.
Operation EASTER celebrated 20 years protecting nests from egg collectors. Originally developed in Scotland, the operation is now facilitated by the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) in conjunction with UK Police forces and partner agencies. The operation targets egg thieves by sharing intelligence across the UK to support enforcement action.
The group focused on a number of awareness-raising pieces e.g. on the importance of buying venison from reputable dealers; on canoes and kayaks potentially disturbing wildlife and on the possible disturbance, e.g. of nesting birds, by the misuse of drones.
Members of the sub-group contributed to a news release on a number of incidents this summer involving dolphins, orcas and humpback whales, where boats have gone too close and endangered not only the animals but the boat operators. The release was coordinated and issued by Scottish Natural Heritage. It was widely covered, with prominent mention of PAW Scotland by BBC Scotland and various newspapers and websites.
The Scientific Sub group met in March and August 2017. The group welcomed new representatives from NWCU and SNH. This will enable direct contact with enforcement during meetings and also more flexibility for SNH on attendance.
Activities over 2017 included a project on the recovery of human DNA from spring traps, baits and bird carcasses, the results have given hope that this type of testing could be applied in wildlife crime investigations.
SASA and SPA were involved in writing a procedure for the collection of golden eagle blood samples to be stored for potential evidentiary purposes. Over 30 samples were collected and stored following a chain-of-custody process. These can now be used as reference samples adequate for court purposes should any golden eagle remains (feather, blood, tissue) be recovered in an investigation. The database will expand in coming years and there is the possibility to carry out a similar project for other key species.
Minutes from meetings of this group are available online within the PAW Scotland webpages.
Email: Hugh Dignon