Tougher laws to tackle the release of alien species into the wild

NEW laws could see people jailed for up to two years for releasing alien species into the wild in Scotland.

• Samir and Bertus, the two new Indian rhinos at Edinburgh Zoo, are now inseparable

The Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill would tighten up legislation that aims to prevent the spread of non-native species such as grey squirrels or Japanese knotweed.

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It would also bring in powers allowing the government to slap "species control orders" on the public to force them to deal with alien species. This could range from people with gardens to those with country estates.

If they failed to comply with the requirements in the control order, they could face a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine or two-year prison sentence.

The bill, introduced to parliament yesterday, aims to strengthen legislation to protect Scotland's wildlife and countryside.

Other measures in the legislation would bring in a responsibility for local authorities to deal with problem deer in cities.

There have been a growing number of deer in urban areas, causing issues such as road collisions, but at present no organisation has a duty to deal with the animals.

The new bill would focus responsibility on the local authority, which could use lethal control if necessary.

The bill would make it illegal to kill hares during the breeding season, put tougher restrictions on the use of snares and increase the penalty for killing badgers.

Roseanna Cunningham, environment minister, emphasised that many of the existing wildlife laws remained unchanged since the 1800s and needed to be updated.

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"This bill aims to strengthen and clarify the rules surrounding activities which could potentially damage protected sites and to provide Scottish Natural Heritage the power to demand restoration if damage occurs," she said.

RSPB Scotland supported the move to ban the release of non native species into the wild, but called for tougher action to make it compulsory for landowners to control deer.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust and Advocates for Animals criticised the bill for failing to ban the use of snares.


• Hares: Illegal to kill brown and common hares during their breeding seasons. Maximum six months prison or 10,000 fine.

• Snares: All snares must be tagged to identify the owner to police and snarers must take training courses.

• Invasive species: Illegal to release alien plants or animals outside their "native range". Control orders to force landowners to eradicate them.

• Deer: Local authorities to be responsible for problem deer in urban areas. New code of practice for landowners who shoot deer.

• Badgers: Maximum penalty for killing badgers increased from maximum six months in prison/5,000 fine to three years in prison/unlimited fine.

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• Heather burning: Dates of burning can be varied, replacing existing rules allowing it only between 1 October to 15 April.