The public are being encouraged to anonymously report damage to historic buildings and monuments to help identify the culprits.
The Scottish Heritage Crime Group (SHCG) aims to raise awareness of the impact the damage has in a bid to reduce incidents.
Its launch was announced just weeks after the Evening News highlighted shocking graffiti spray-painted on the ruins of an ancient chapel in Holyrood Park near the foot of Arthur’s Seat.
Heritage crime encompasses as any criminal activity which causes damage to a heritage asset, including metal theft and vandalism.
Our image showed what appeared to be blue and lettering, or a ‘tag’, on the stonework of the medieval St Anthony’s Chapel which stands on a rocky outcrop overlooking St Margaret’s Loch.
And earlier this month, a police search was launched after graffiti was engraved into the world-renowned Neolithic stone circle the Ring of Brodgar, in Orkney, which is more than 4,000 years old.
The new group will boost information sharing between partners, which includes Historic Environment Scotland (HES) - Scotland’s regulator of works on historic monuments and an enforcement authority.
Others involved are Police Scotland, Treasure Trove, Edinburgh City Council and the Association of Planning Enforcement Officers.
In partnership with the new group, independent charity Crimestoppers want the public to anonymously report heritage crimes.
Launching the group, Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Scotland is home to a wealth of cultural property and heritage, generating economic benefits of around £4.2 billion in 2017, supporting over 60,000 full time jobs and attracting over 18 million visitors in that year alone.
“As guardians of Scotland’s heritage, it is our responsibility to protect it from those who would seek to harm and degrade it through theft, vandalism or other forms of criminality.”
Group chairman, Inspector Alan Dron, said: “Heritage crime robs us of our history, and its cost and impact on communities is enormous - not just in monetary value but in social costs.” He added: “Any damage caused denies future generations the opportunity to enjoy our heritage and this group has a vital role in protecting and preserving it for generations to come”.
Alex Paterson, HES chief executive, said: “Scotland’s historic environment spans a rich collection of unique sites of national and international significance, including six Unesco World Heritage sites, over 8,000 scheduled monuments, 47,000 listed buildings and 44 protected shipwrecks.
“It is vital that we ensure these precious historic assets are safeguarded. The SHGG will enable us to work with our partners to tackle heritage crime more effectively.”