The Scottish Government has finally launched its public consultation on increasing the powers of the SSPCA to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes.
We have campaigned long and hard for this and it’s taken the Government three years since they first committed to opening a consultation, so now it’s vitally important that as many people as possible actually respond to it. The Government wants to hear your views, whether in support or opposition, so this is your chance to influence policy and make a real difference in the fight against wildlife crime in Scotland.
The consultation document itself is extremely well-written, and we are delighted to see that the consultation period will be open for five months (closing 1st September 2014). We are also pleased to see that the consultation questions are straightforward:
1. Do you agree that the law in Scotland should be changed to give the SSPCA the powers as set out in section 4.1 [of the consultation document]?
2. Please set out your reasons for your answer to Q1.
3. If you would prefer to see changes to the SSPCA’s powers to investigate wildife crime other than those set out in section 4.1, please describe them.
So what’s it all about? The finer details can be read in the consultation document (see below) but in a nutshell….
Currently, the SSPCA has the power to investigate wildlife crimes that involve an animal in distress. So for example, if they are called out to an incident of a golden eagle that had been caught in an illegally-set spring trap and the eagle was still alive, the SSPCA has the power to collect evidence as part of a criminal investigation. This is because they have powers under the animal welfare legislation and this incident would certainly fall into a welfare category where the animal was ‘under the control of man’.
However, if they are called out to an incident where a golden eagle had eaten a poisoned bait and had died two minutes before the SSPCA arrived on scene, the SSPCA does not currently have the power to investigate because the welfare legislation doesn’t apply (the bird is already dead) and the dead bird is not ‘under the control of man’. In this scenario, all the SSPCA can do is to call the police and hope that the police attend the scene in a timely manner. How stupid is that?
Another example – if the SSPCA was called out to an incident of an illegally-snared badger, and that badger was already dead, and the SSPCA found 100 illegally-set snares at the same location, the SSPCA would not be able to investigate; they would have to rely upon the police to attend. If the badger was still alive (suffering), the SSPCA could investigate.
The proposal laid out in the consultation is to widen the investigatory powers of the SSPCA so that they’re not just limited to operating under welfare legislation; the increased powers, if granted, would also allow them to operate under certain parts of the Wildlife & Countryside Act in addition to the welfare legislation.
Importantly, the increased powers would allow them to continue their investigations into animal welfare incidents where an animal is in distress, but also to investigate wildlife crimes where the animal is already dead, and even wildlife crimes that haven’t yet involved an animal – for example an illegally-set trap.
For us, the increased investigatory powers are a no-brainer. If you care about wildlife crime and you want to see improved detection rates, more prosecutions and a greater chance of conviction, then these increased investigatory powers are a logical step. Here’s why:
1. The SSPCA has a successful track record for investigating [a limited number of] wildlife crimes, both on their own and in partnership with the police.
2. Their inspectors and specialist investigations team have long experience in this field and are already fully trained.
3. SSPCA inspectors are fully focused on animal welfare and wildlife crime – they are not part-timers like many of the police WCOs and nor are they distracted by having to investigate other types of crime, as police WCOs can be.
4. The SSPCA is already a Specialist Reporting Agency, which means they can report alleged offences [within their limited remit] to the Procurator Fiscal and they know what evidence is required for a potential prosecution.
5. With increased investigatory powers, a total of 64 experienced SSPCA staff would be available to respond to a wider range of wildlife crimes.
6. These 64 experienced SSPCA staff would come at no cost whatsoever to the public purse. It would be a free resource to bolster an often under-resourced police force.
7. The specialist skills of the SSPCA are already recognised and utilised by the police in multi-agency searches. The sticking point, under current legislation, is that the police are not obliged to invite them to participate on such searches. Sometimes they do, sometimes, inexplicably, they don’t; it all depends on the personalities involved, which is not, in our opinion, the best way of investigating a wildlife crime.
8. The increase of powers to the SSPCA would not mean that the police are excluded from such investigations. The police would still retain their powers but crucially, they’d now have a further resource to call upon if they needed help. Alternatively, the SSPCA would have the powers to conduct their own investigation if the police couldn’t attend at short notice, for whatever reason. That would be true partnership working and, most importantly of all, increase the chances of a thorough investigation leading to a successful prosecution.
9. Last year we calculated the conviction rate for raptor persecution crime in Scotland as being a pathetic 7.3% (see here). Obviously, something is not working and by giving increased powers to the SSPCA we would expect to see this conviction rate rise considerably. Surely that’s in everyone’s interest (apart from the wildlife criminals, of course).
We know that there will probably be a lot of opposition to the proposal. For example, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association were not in support when the issue was first raised during the WANE bill consultations several years ago. We’re fairly sure that others from within the game-shooting industry will also oppose it – you’ll have to draw your own conclusions on their motivation for opposition. It’ll certainly be interesting to see the consultation responses of various organisations when they are published after the close of the consultation period.
At a time when there is an increasing public awareness of wildlife crime, and an ever-growing sense of frustration at the endless series of failed investigations (with a handful of exceptions), this consultation couldn’t have come at a better time.
Please, have a look at the consultation document and send in your views to the government using the official response form (see below). If you want to copy and paste any or all of our reasons listed above for increasing the SSPCA’s investigatory powers, please feel free.
The time is long-overdue for the pressure to be ramped up on the wildlife criminals (the Untouchables) running amok in our countryside, illegally poisoning, shooting, trapping and bludgeoning our wildlife and sticking up two fingers to the rest of us. Let them know we’ve had enough and let the government know that they have our full support to implement these changes.
Download the SSPCA Consultation document: SSPCA Consulation document
Download the Consultation and Response Form: SSPCA Consultation Questions and Response Form