On October 10th 2012, one month into his job, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse made the following statement in response to the huge public uproar about the death of the Deeside eagle (see here) –
“The unlawful killing of any raptors has no place in today’s Scotland and we will continue to work hard to eradicate this criminal activity. We believe that the partnership approach with the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, is bringing the reduction in bird of prey poisoning that can be seen in the statistics in recent years. However we are not complacent and if there is evidence of a switch to other methods of persecution we will take action to bear down on those methods“.
He made a further statement on 28th November 2012 following the discovery on an Aberdeenshire estate of a hen harrier that had been shot dead (see here) –
“We will not tolerate the illegal persecution of protected species such as the hen harrier and, as I have said recently in relation to another shooting [presumably the shot golden eagle found critically injured on an estate in south west Scotland – see here] I am prepared to look at further measures to strengthen and assist enforcement if we continue to see this flouting of the law in respect of protected species“.
Since then a number of further persecution incidents have taken place, some of which have made it into the public domain, whereas others are still being treated as closely-guarded secrets by Police Scotland (why is that, several months after the crimes were discovered?). The ones that have been publicised include:
1. A dead buzzard at Glasserton Estate, Whithorn that was discovered in December 2012 but not reported in the media until 6 March (see here). The press release was vague but we assume this buzzard had been poisoned judging by the location of known poisoning incidents that were included in the PAW Scotland 2012 poisoning maps.
2. A dead buzzard that had been found by the side of a road in Stirlingshire in early February 2013 – later tests showed it had been shot (see here).
3. A dead buzzard that had been found near St Mary’s Loch in the Borders in early March – it had been shot (see here). Following this incident, we tweeted Paul Wheelhouse and asked him if he was ready to take the action he’d promised (see here). He replied: “I will say more when I have a full briefing but my first reaction is instinctive – I’m both disgusted and very much angered“. Seven weeks later we’re still waiting for his statement.
In early April it was reported that the shot golden eagle that had been found on a grouse moor in south west Scotland had finally succumbed to its injuries (see here). This news prompted us to encourage readers to write to Paul Wheelhouse, again, and ask him whether he was now ready to take the action he’d promised. We know that over 100 of you sent emails to him. In early May he responded. The following email is an example of one of the generic responses that were sent out by his aide:
Thank you for your letter to the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Mr Paul Wheelhouse. I have been asked to respond.
The Minister was saddened to hear that the golden eagle in the care of the SSPCA had to be put to sleep on veterinary advice, due to underlying health conditions as it had been hoped initially that the eagle would make a full recovery. This case involves an ongoing Police and SSPCA investigation, so further comment on that incident is inappropriate.
The Minister welcomed a reduction in confirmed poisoning figures for raptors in March 2013, however he did recognise that other forms of persecution do exist and he has already committed to looking at the development of further measures to end raptor persecution if other methods of persecution prove to be on the increase. Vicarious Liability provisions which came into force in 2012 are still to be tested in court and it is critical to assess the impact of the legislation by this means.
The difficulties in prosecuting wildlife crimes are well documented. Recognising the specialist nature of the investigations required, and legislation covering such criminality, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service created specialist wildlife and environmental fiscals in 2011. Police reform has also implemented changes with regard to the structure and coordination of wildlife crime officers with a net increase in officers with relevant responsibilities. These changes combined will continue to shape improvements in wildlife crime detection, investigations and prosecutions.
Tackling wildlife crime is a priority for the Minister and he stands by previous comments that he is not prepared to allow these crimes to continue unabated, and without consequence. Partnership working via the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, which is chaired by the Minister, is key to progress and this path will also continue to be used to deliver a reduction in wildlife crime.
Wildlife Crime Policy Officer
It seems to us that Paul Wheelhouse is good on rhetoric but not so good on action. Very disappointing but not at all surprising. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds when he hears about the other examples of ‘continued flouting of the law’, that have happened right under his nose. He might want to have a chat with Police Scotland and ask them what they’re keeping from public view, and why……