Wildlife crime shame tarnishes Scotland

Hen harrier cropped

"Wall of silence" must be broken down as wildlife crime impacts on us all, say environmentalists

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20th February 2015 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

More needs to be done to tackle the scourge of wildlife crime – or Scotland’s international reputation could be tarnished, say environmentalists.

The country is renowned for its spectacular scenery and as a haven for animals rare or non-existent in the rest of the UK.

In particular, Scotland is home to a suite of birds of prey such as golden and white-tailed eagles and hen harriers which have been exterminated across much of the rest of the British Isles.

However, it is these species which are often the victims of wildlife crime – especially in areas where sport shooting and conservation interests clash.

This should be a wake-up call for those involved in tackling wildlife crime. A law is only as good as its enforcement

A new report by Scottish Environment Link – a coalition of 30 green groups – says more must be done urgently to stamp out attacks on wildlife.

It states that Scotland's international reputation is on the line over the issue.

The report finds that the extent of wildlife crime is vastly greater than suggested by the numbers of incidents, police investigations and prosecutions and that the political will to stamp out wildlife crime has been tempered, lacking or not exerted in an effective manner. 

It states that determined, intelligence-led, carefully targeted policing is required, particularly in areas where a “wall of silence” surrounds wildlife offences.

Eddie Palmer of Scottish Badgers, convener of the Link Wildlife Crime Task Force, said: "Wildlife crime arises from modern versions of old and outdated practices. Practices that were once acceptable are now considered cruel and criminal. This is especially so where the practices are obviously linked with economic interests. Behaviour in certain minority groups has lagged well behind these changes in our attitudes. It is time to change that behaviour and stamp out these crimes."

Ian Thomson of RSPB Scotland said: "This should be a wake-up call for those involved in tackling wildlife crime. A law is only as good as its enforcement, and the comprehensive analysis contained in these papers shows that this is far from good enough here in Scotland." 

However, the Crown Office responded robustly to the report, questioning its veracity.

A spokesperson said: "This report is ill informed and based on flawed methodology. It is a matter of real concern that no discussion or contact in relation to these cases has been made with the Crown. The Crown rejects the finding of this report on the basis that many of the conclusions are inaccurate.

"There was no consultation with us prior to publication and therefore no context for the erroneous conclusions and recommendations which appear to be supported by examples which are outdated and anecdotal at best.

"The Crown will raise these concerns directly with Scottish Environment Link."

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "Tackling wildlife crime is not just about law enforcement, it is about working with partners and the public to raise awareness and to prevent it happening.

"Police Scotland is committed to investigating all reports of suspected wildlife crime. Investigations into the suspicious deaths of wildlife are complex, difficult and prolonged. The areas covered can be vast and remote, and it is seldom immediately apparent whether wildlife has died as the result of criminality.

"We have a network of dedicated wildlife crime officers across the country with extensive experience and are introducing a new training courses for police officers which will substantially increase the number of officers with specialist understanding of wildlife crime."