By Aileen McLeod
In the past year, between April 2014 and February 2015, almost 250 wildlife crimes were recorded by Police Scotland.
That’s 250 too many.
The crimes included persecuting badgers, poisoning birds of prey and trading in some of the world’s most endangered species.
There is no room for complacency – last year saw one of the worst ever bird of prey poisoning cases, with the discovery of 12 dead red kites and four buzzards in Ross-shire, which were confirmed by SASA as having been poisoned.
I want to make it abundantly clear that the illegal poisoning of wildlife cannot – and will not – be tolerated in a modern Scotland.
This is one of our priorities which the Scottish Government is continuing to tackle head-on. I recently launched a scheme, with the support of PAW Scotland partners, to get rid of illegal pesticides which could be used to poison wildlife.
The scheme allows those who know, or suspect, they are in possession of certain pesticides which are illegal, to dispose of them safely and confidentially. Arrangements are also in place for SNH to restrict the use of general licences where there is evidence of wildlife crime.
Here in Scotland we have the strongest wildlife legislation in the UK, and in the last few months we have seen the first ever custodial sentence for the killing of birds of prey and the first conviction of a land owner under the vicarious liability provisions, for crimes committed in 2012.
I believe this sends out a clear message to those who continue to illegally target Scotland’s wildlife that their actions will not be tolerated.
Recently I helped Police Scotland launch its new awareness campaign to tackle wildlife crime in Scottish cities, towns and rural areas.
Figures reported by Police Scotland indicated that the detection rate for wildlife crime has increased from the previous year by almost 13 per cent to a 77 per cent detection rate and I’m pleased to see that more is being done to catch those offenders.
As the Chair of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland I am delighted to support this campaign. In Scotland we have long recognised the value of our wildlife and the importance of protecting it.
Police Scotland’s campaign will play a key role in raising awareness about wildlife crime and what people should do if they encounter it.
Investigations into wildlife crime can be difficult so it is essential that we work closely with our partners to get the message out there and raise public awareness to help us prevent it from happening in the first place.
Last year, the Scottish Government’s second annual wildlife crime report was published in a bid to develop the bigger picture of what offences are occurring in Scotland. Figures in the report showed that the largest volume of wildlife crime in Scotland is poaching related – fish, deer and coursing offences.
While poaching is the most commonly recorded offence, crimes against our rare birds of prey and vulnerable freshwater pearl mussel populations are of most serious concern in terms of damage to Scotland’s ecosystems and our reputation.
We must continue to work with stakeholders to raise awareness and therefore ensure prevention, so that these crimes decrease and stop. We are not there yet but with the help of the PAW Scotland partners and the actions of the public I am confident that we are moving in the right direction.
Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform