Scottish Government targets wildlife criminals

Golden Eagles: target for wildlife criminals. Picture: PA

Golden Eagles: target for wildlife criminals. Picture: PA

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THE SCOTTISH Government today announced plans for a fresh offensive against the wildlife criminals who are continuing to persecute iconic birds of prey including the golden eagle and the sea eagle.

The raft of new measures include proposals to restrict the use of licences to trap and shoot wild birds on land where raptors are suspected to have been poisoned or illegally trapped or shot.

And a special task group is also to be formed to review whether the current penalties available for wildlife crime are adequate in acting as a deterrent.

Announcing the new measures, Paul Wheelhouse, Scotland’s Minister for Environment and Climate Change, said he was determined to end the “outdated, barbaric and criminal practices “ which continued to blight Scotland’s countryside.

He said that a number of recent reports and court cases suggested that wildlife crime, through the use of poisons, illegal trapping and shooting, was continuing to threaten Scotland’s birds of prey. Although 2012 had seen a reduction in poisoning cases, further measures were needed to help prevent more incidents.

‘Barbaric’

Mr Wheelhouse declared:” I am determined to stop illegal persecution of raptors that continues to blight the Scottish countryside. These outdated, barbaric and criminal practices put at risk some of our most magnificent wildlife and have horrified a wide range of people across Scotland and those who love Scotland.

“A number of recent reports, some of which are in the public domain and some of which are still subject to police enquiries, suggest that there is still a problem with the use of poison as well as cases involving illegal trapping and shooting. I have decided therefore that the time is right to bring forward some further measures which I hope will deter those involved in illegal activities. “

He continued: “Wildlife crime, and raptor persecution in particular, often takes place in remote locations or in the dark of night. By its very surreptitious nature, the likelihood of being seen by a member of the public who can report the matter to the authorities is small.

“I have spoken with the Lord Advocate, who maintains a close personal interest in all wildlife crime. We are both keen to maximise the opportunity for offences to be detected and offenders to be tracked down.

“The Lord Advocate has instructed the specialist prosecutors in the Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit to work with Police Scotland to ensure that law enforcement utilises all investigative tools at their disposal in the fight against wildlife crime.”

Mr Wheelhouse, who is also chairman of PAW (Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime) Scotland, has also ordered Scottish Natural Heritage to examine how and when they could restrict the use of General Licences to trap and shoot wild birds on land where they have good reason to believe crimes have taken place. A group will also be established to review how wildlife crime is treated within the legal system including whether the penalties available are adequate.

Public outrage

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, welcomed the plans for the new crackdown.. He said: “It is firmly established that the prevailing levels of human killing are having a devastating effect on the populations of some of our native bird of prey species, including golden eagle, hen harrier and red kite. Recent incidents involving the killing of golden eagles and other iconic bird of prey species have rightly caused public outrage.

“We welcome the clear leadership shown today by the Scottish Government indicating that these crimes will not be tolerated in modern Scotland. We support further sanctions to act as a deterrent, and to make it easier for the authorities to convict those involved. We hope that these measures will be implemented soon, and are well targeted to bear down on the organised crime behind much of this activity.“

A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association added: “Any efforts to target those guilty of illegal practices are wholeheartedly welcomed by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. The wrongful actions of the few do damage to the wildlife of Scotland and to the reputations of the vast majority of gamekeepers and game managers who operate responsibly and with care for nature in Scotland.”

He continued: “The Scottish Gamekeepers Association also welcomes the Minister’s emphasis on the Scottish legal system to impose the appropriate sanctions in these cases.

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