Two new raptor crime reporting protocols have just been published on the PAW Scotland website. One covers the ‘collection of evidence for incidents of raptor crime’ and the other is ‘guidance for people who lose contact with satellite-tagged birds’.
Both protocols come from the Scottish Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (SRPPDG). This group was established in 2009 as a sub-group of PAW Scotland and these protocols are the first ‘deliveries’ from the group. Before discussing each protocol in turn, it’s worth bearing in mind which organisations make up the SRPPDG, because then you’ll understand why landowner appeasement and suppression of news reports seem to be prominent elements in the protocols.
The current make-up of the SRPPDG is as follows:
Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA), Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), Scottish Police, Scottish Government, Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), RSPB, Scottish Raptor Study Groups (SRSGs).
Let’s start with the ‘Collection of evidence for incidents of raptor crime’ protocol. You can read it here. This protocol is not just about the ‘collection of evidence’ – importantly, it’s also about how to report a raptor crime.
Incredibly, this protocol suggests that all suspected incidents of raptor crime ‘MUST’ be reported to the police. Now that’s not actually true. If the raptor crime involves a situation where an animal’s welfare is at risk (e.g. a live raptor caught in an illegally-set trap), then the SSPCA have a statutory authority to investigate the incident and report it for consideration for prosecution to the Crown Office. They can do this without needing police assistance – they have a highly experienced Special Investigations Unit to coordinate it. Nowhere in this protocol is that option given as a recommended course of action.
Also missing from the reporting options is a recommendation to report a suspected raptor crime to the RSPB. Now, unlike the SSPCA, the RSPB does not have any statutory authority to investigate. If they are involved, they have to work with one of the statutory authorities. Nevertheless, to exclude them entirely from this protocol is a dangerous business. They, too, have a highly specialised Investigations Unit, whereas some Scottish police forces still don’t even have a full-time wildlife crime officer, even though this was a recommendation made by the Scottish Government about five years ago!
We have seen time and time again instances of suspected raptor crimes that have been reported to the police but the follow-up investigation has left a lot to be desired. Here is just one example from 2010. Also in 2010, the then Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham admitted that police action on wildife crime investigation was “a challenge” (see here). Have things improved since then? Well, if you look at the recent incident of that golden eagle that was found dumped next to an Aberdeenshire lay-by, you could easily argue that things have not improved. The police did not issue a press statement about the illegal killing of that eagle, and nor did they even apply for a search warrant to search the land, buildings and vehicles where the bird was ‘downed’ for several hours before it was moved and dumped in the lay-by. The only reason the public found out about that incident was because the RSPB issued a press release 4.5 months after the incident (see here), perhaps in exasperation that the police hadn’t bothered.
We’re not suggesting that all Scottish police forces are useless at investigating wildlife crime. Some of them are very good, others not so good. Yes, we all recognise that prosecuting wildlife criminals is fraught with legal obstacles, but surely because of that it makes sense to involve as many specialist agencies as possible?
In whose interest is it, not to recommend reporting suspected raptor crime incidents to the SSPCA and RSPB? If we do as the protocol says and just report the incident to the police, who is going to follow up and ensure that the case is properly investigated? Who’s going to keep us, the general public, informed of raptor crime incidents? If the incident is reported solely to the police, who’s to know about an incident if the police decide to suppress it from the public arena? It doesn’t take much imagination to guess at who would benefit from such a protocol.
It is our strongly-held view that ALL incidents of suspected raptor crime should be reported to the RSPB Investigations Unit. If the police need to be involved then the RSPB will contact them, or you can contact them yourself in addition to contacting the RSPB. If a live animal is involved, the first port of call should be the SSPCA. In our opinion it is vital that these agencies are not excluded from the reporting process – just think about the long list of raptor persecution incidents that the RSPB publishes each year in their annual report – nobody else publishes these because it isn’t in their interests to do so!
RSPB Scotland Investigations Unit: 0131 317 4100
SSPCA 24-hour animal welfare hot-line: 03000 999 999
The second recently-published protocol provides guidance for people who are actively involved in raptor satellite-tracking projects in Scotland. You can read the protocol here.
This one’s amazing. The protocol is, if the signal from your satellite-tagged bird has either ceased or is transmitting from the same area for more than 24 hours, you are to contact the National Wildlife Crime Unit (presumably for ‘intelligence’ on the given area). If you think the circumstances are not suspicious you should contact the landowner and then go looking for the bird. The problem with this is two-fold.
Firstly, what is defined as ‘suspicious’? Surely, any ‘downed’ bird on a piece of land that is used for game shooting must be considered suspicious until proven otherwise? In which case, the landowner should not be informed until a covert search for the downed bird has taken place.
Secondly, just how good is the NWCU’s ‘intelligence’? In a recent NWCU report (NWCU Strategic Assessment, Feb 2011) the following statement appears in the section about peregrine persecution:
“Almost half of these reports originated from the RSPB but were not reported by the police force the offence occured in“.
Christ, if that’s not reason enough to persuade you to report raptor crimes to the RSPB then nothing is!
We don’t know how good the NWCU’s intelligence is. Based on the killing of that golden eagle mentioned above, and the subsequent ‘investigation’, you could argue that their intelligence is rubbish. The history of the area, in terms of dead raptors being found in suspicious circumstances, should have been an instant trigger to set off a request for a search warrant. We still have not been given a satisfactory explanation as to why a search warrant was not requested.
The protocol goes on to explain how any media publicity will be handled after the police investigation. Basically, the police ‘may choose’ to issue a press statement. That means they probably won’t say anything at all or if they do, they undoubtedly won’t mention any estate names. The NWCU will advise the satellite-trackers, and also several nominated groups from the SRPPDG (Scottish Government, BASC and Scottish Land & Estates!!!!!!!). The protocol ends with this:
“There should be no further public comment on the finding“.
What? So it all gets quietly brushed under the carpet, none of us are any the wiser and the game-shooting lobby can continue to claim that they’ve all cleaned up their acts and with no evidence to the contrary they should now be allowed licences to legally cull raptors?
Ah, partnership working at its finest.