Calls for ‘hardline crackdown’ on wildlife crime

Environment minister Aileen McLeod asked to intervene

Environment minister Aileen McLeod asked to intervene

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A NEW hardline crackdown on wildlife crime should be introduced to deter those who “ignore the law”, MSPs have said

Rates of detecting and prosecuting wildlife crime must also be improved, a parliamentary committee has said in a letter to Scotland’s new environment minister, Aileen MacLeod.

Widespread anger followed the poisoning deaths of 22 birds of prey in Ross-shire earlier this year.

Many crimes are not reported to police and go unrecorded, according to the Scottish Parliament’s rural affairs, climate change and environment committee. A review of the existing wildlife crime penalties is under way and an initial report to the government is expected to be made early in the New Year.

In instances where crimes are reported to officers, criminal proceedings only appear to be taken in a fifth of cases.

MSPs are now calling on the Scottish Government to ensure wildlife crime data is published clearly and consistently, with maps marking the location of incidents.

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The most recent figures, released in October, showed that 319 offences against wildlife were recorded in 2012-13, up from 307 in the previous year.

In the courts, 75 people were prosecuted for wildlife crime over the same time period, with 55 convicted.

Committee convener Rob Gibson said: “There is no room for complacency in tackling this important issue. We questioned whether wildlife crime is sufficiently prioritised by Police Scotland and the Crown Office.

“We heard that the answer is yes, therefore we expect to see an improvement in the detection and prosecution rates for wildlife crime in future years.”

The 14 Police Scotland divisions each have a wildlife crime liaison officer and Police Scotland believes this gives the focus to tackle wildlife crime.

The letter says: “The committee agrees with Police Scotland that every front-line officer needs to be aware of, and able to investigate, reports of wildlife crime thoroughly and recommends funding for training is made available.

“The committee would welcome your view as to the adequacy of police resources to effectively tackle wildlife crime, particularly as there are concerns that the numbers of reported crimes may be the tip of the iceberg.”

The poisoning of a number of birds of prey in the Highlands earlier this year is at the heart of MSPs’ concerns.

The letter also raises concerns over comments by former environment minister Paul Wheelhouse, who said that certain species are almost entirely absent in areas of Scotland where it is expected they would be present.

Other issues highlighted by the committee included the option of making greater use of Scottish SPCA staff to support Police Scotland in their work.

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