New report a ‘damning indictment’ of wildlife crime enforcement in Scotland

Natural Injustice 1 Feb 2015 cover - CopyA report published today by Scottish Environment LINK has been described as a “damning indictment” of the failure to effectively tackle wildlife crime in Scotland.

The report, ‘Natural Injustice: A review of the enforcement of wildlife protection legislation in Scotland’ will make for uncomfortable reading by those responsible for addressing wildlife crime, including the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Crown Office.

The report examines the experiences of LINK member organisations who have been involved in reporting wildlife crimes and tracks the progress of 148 confirmed crimes that were reported to the Police over a six-year period (2008-2013). The crimes included the persecution of badgers, raptors, bats and freshwater pearl mussels – four of the stated national wildlife crime priorities.

The report’s findings are indeed damning. Here is an overview, lifted from the Executive Summary:

Main Findings

  1. The four areas of wildlife crime are under-recorded and the standard of information that is recorded is generally inconsistently collected which limits its usefulness. This is highlighted by the significant discrepancies between the annual crime figures produced by the wildlife NGOs and those produced by the Scottish Government.
  2. There is an urgent need to re-examine the recording systems in use, not only to increase public confidence in the Scottish Government’s figures but also to provide a more accurate evaluation of the extent of wildlife crime.
  3. Of the 148 confirmed wildlife crimes reported to the police during 2008-2013, 98 (66.2%) are known to have resulted in a follow-up investigation.
  4. At least 27 wildlife crimes (18.2%) did not result in a follow-up investigation and were effectively ignored. It is feasible that as many as one third of reported incidents were un-investigated.
  5. The failure to conduct a follow-up investigation was not limited to one particular region but occurred in five of eight regions.
  6. Of the follow-up investigations that did occur, LINK respondents considered just over one third (35.1%) to have been conducted satisfactorily. Criticisms included delayed police response times (sometimes as long as several months from the initial incident report) leading to the disappearance of evidence, delays exacerbated by un-trained police wildlife crime officers and a lack of seriousness with which senior police officers treat wildlife crime, failure to apply for search warrants, failure to conduct covert searches, poorly-targeted and/or restricted search efforts, the premature disposal of evidence prior to toxicology examination and a chronic failure to communicate with partner agencies either as a result of police under-resourcing and/or politically-motivated deliberate exclusion policies.
  7. Of the 148 confirmed wildlife crimes, only 20 (13.5%) resulted in a prosecution.
  8. A minimum of at least 111 crimes (75%) failed to result in a prosecution. The failure rate was consistent across all regions.
  9. In some instances the failure to prosecute was recognised as a result of the innate problems associated with investigating crime in remote areas, but in many cases the cause of failure was inextricably linked to a poor follow-up investigation.
  10. Twenty of the confirmed wildlife crimes (13.5%) are known to have reached the prosecution stage and of those, 15 are known to have resulted in a conviction. This figure should be viewed as a minimum as several cases are currently on-going and thus the number of known convictions may increase.
  11. Many of the sentences were at the lower end of the scale and penalties issued for similar crimes appear to have been applied inconsistently.
  12. Overall, but with a few noticeable exceptions, there is, amongst LINK members, an overwhelming lack of confidence in the ability of the statutory agencies to adequately investigate wildlife crime and in the willingness of the judiciary to impose meaningful deterrent sentences.


The report includes three case studies which amount to a devastating catalogue of incompetence. The Appendices are even more damning, detailing the personal experiences of LINK members. Here are a few examples:

The first of six instances on this estate but not followed up until three years later”.

Took a very long time for police to report to Crown Office. No progress on second individual found in possession of illegal poisons”.

Failure to follow-up suspect’s admission that he had laid out poisoned baits”.

Police made appointment with suspect to search his sheds!!

Delay in warrant despite ongoing killing. Insufficient attempts to get full picture of evidence. Premature disposal of evidence by police prior to toxicology analyses”.

Estate employees were invited to participate in the search! Police also took their word that perpetrators likely to be neighbours, despite long history of persecution here”.

No further enquiry despite estate’s history of wildlife crime. Police insisted on no publicity”.

Despite many previous offences at locus, police considered an active search of vehicles to be disproportionate”.

Police were contacted but without seeing the carcass refused to attend as they considered it to be too decomposed. Partner agency attended the scene a few days later but carcass had disappeared”.

No follow up and when I asked about it the WCO admitted he had forgotten about it”.

The report’s findings have been supported by 17 LINK environmental NGOs, including the Scottish Wildlife Trust, WWF Scotland, Scottish Badgers, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wild Land Group, Scottish Raptor Study Group and the John Muir Trust.

LINK has also published a second report, outlining 20 recommendations for improvement.

Download Natural-Injustice-paper1-FINAL

Download Natural-Injustice-paper2-FINAL

Media coverage

BBC News here (includes quotes from COPFS, Scottish Government, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates and Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association).

STV here (including quote from Police Scotland)

Herald here

19 thoughts on “New report a ‘damning indictment’ of wildlife crime enforcement in Scotland”

  1. I don’t suppose that many of us will be surprised by this report, or the usual rubbish spouted by the SGA and Land and Estates. The fact they both claim that they are against wildlife crime is laughable. Except for poaching of course, the one area where, I believe, they are sincere!

    1. That’s exactly what they want you to think, they make it so obvious you have to wonder who’s pulling their strings, it can’t be the general public who pay their wages and would like to know the real truth, can it ???

  2. Following the NGO spin-doctor Mr. Nodder’s statement about pesticide possession not being a Wildlife Crime, it was good to see in the LINK report the PAWS’s (of which NGO is a ‘partner’) definition of a Wildlife Crime.

    1.3 What is Wildlife Crime?
    Wildlife crime has been defined by the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime in Scotland as follows:
    Wildlife crime is any act or omission, which affects any wild creature, plant or habitat, in Scotland, including acts as described in the following legislation:
    (9.) Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005

  3. Excellent timing- in the wake of ‘Scottish Environment Week’ to publish this report. Hopeful the MSPs & their entourages will now be well versed on Scotland’s ‘natural capital’ & hopefully are now aware of the protection offered to those who shoot & poison it. I wonder what will happen next ?

  4. One of those rare insights into the scale of the problem – some of us have been pointing out these failings for decades. The “authorities” will try to say its due to a lack of resources – it isnt, its due to a lack of support for front line officers by those in command who are in thrall to the very people behind these crimes. The BBC asking shooting representatives for a quote is like asking the Medellin Cartel for a quote on cocaine trafficking…Now are our politicians beginning to understand what has been going on??….Or will it be the same old handwringing..and blethers?. Give SSPCA powers now, involve RSPB and other wildlife experts in all wildlife cases NOW!

  5. Now if this isn’t an extremely good example of why SSPCA MUST be handed more powers, the sooner the better, then we don’t know what is! Wildlife crime in Scotland IS out of control and why? Because those criminals who are slaughtering our wildlife and destroying Scotland’s reputation as a wildlife haven know that they can get away with it. It is as simple as that! We base this statement on our field knowledge. Police Scotland appear to work more on disruption of wildlife crime rather than actually carrying out effective investigation and catching these criminals. May be they should start by carrying out stop and search of game keeper vehicles, especially in areas where there is history of unlawful wildlife persecution and also doing more raids on estates when a wildlife crime has been detected (at the time and not weeks after the event). Also, work closer with the NGOs and not against them and may be we would see more criminals ending up in court.

    [Ed: This part of comment deleted – perhaps being overly cautious but that’s just the way things are. You’ll understand].

    It may seem it here but Project Raptor are not knocking police officers and we genuinely believe that they all do an extremely demanding job very well, but at the same time we also believe that we must speak out when we see a fault in police attitude, commitment and behaviour in relation to investigating wildlife crime and taking this issue seriously. In our view there is no doubt that Police Scotland are clearly stretched, constantly being squeezed more and more to achieve targets with very little increase in budgets, but surely if they honestly can’t cope with this huge and increasing problem of wildlife crime in Scotland then isn’t time they hand more powers over to others who are fully committed and equipped to handle what has become an issue of national shame?

  6. The BBC report on Good Morning Scotland (with the chap from the RSPB) was ridiculous – I don’t recall them giving SLA etc as hard a time as that

  7. It’s quite obvious Police Scotland are not up to the task. They’d more likely be stopping & searching children. They walk in to village shops with guns when they should be taking those same weapons into forests & moorland where armed & hooded criminal gangs operate. The glens of Angus & Donside are police no-go areas. The same goes for areas just south of Inverness. Not up to the job, or is there more a sinister agenda has D M suggests?!

  8. It seems the police on take poaching or animal theft seriously. I’m not saying those are not important (although their focus ought to be on large scale poaching, not the couple of fish or deer variety they seem to focus on) but they are ignoring -actively ignoring- any crime that might get complicated or tread on the toes of the estate owners or farmers. Perhaps they involve too much paperwork? Police Scotland needs a real wildlife crime unit headed up by a full Chief Super with a brief to go anywhere in Scotland and a dedicated team backing them. Not a ramshackle system of arrangements coordinated (in the loosest possible sense of the word) by a lowly DS, which is what it seems to be now. The fact that it is hard to tell exactly who is in charge and what level of authority they have is a huge problem in and of itself. Every so often the news reports seems to change who is supposed to be responsible and there is no transparency or clear publicly accessible structure for wildlife crime.

  9. Having had more time to read the report – it is a damning indictment indeed and very well researched – what I find most appalling in all of it, are the repeated allegations of police giving informants names to the accused and their managers, after asking to be kept anonymous. If that had been brought to my attention when I worked for RSPB I would have demanded an internal inquiry..and got it. That is a failure to protect the public of the worst kind and undermines any trust. Are the police going to look into those allegations?……I thought the situation was bad when I left in 2006 – this report shows that things are far worse now. Surely this will cause our politicians to demand root and branch change?

  10. It’s certainly the case that the police are not coping with wildlife crime. The slaughter last year on the Black Isle of 22 red kites & buzzards wasn’t followed up by an apparently competent investigation and ended up with an inappropriate & misleading statement ! Why did it take them 9 months to reveal the video of the balaclava clad shooters? They supressed the discovery of a poisoned red kite in central Scotland from over 7 months ago. Perhaps they are over stretched. If that’s the case why are they resisting allowing powers to charities with the expertise in wildlife crime? The police force’s highest priority is to preserve life. To that aim they are regularly supported by charities with the appropriate expertise, for instance the mountain rescue teams & lifeboats. The SSPCA should be given the power to investigate wildlife crime which is rife in the Scottish countryside. It is also time for other organisation with the expertise to be involved also.

  11. How do Scotland’s police fare on other categories of crime? I bet lots of ‘minor’ (ie.e no one died or was maimed, or the sums of money/value of property involved weren’t large) are also forgotten or not pursued vigorously. It’s become normal in parts of England and Wales that if you report a crime like car damage or even burglary you get a crime number and nothing else happens. Not even a visit.

    This is not to let Police Scotland off the hook on wildlife crime, but if we could compare this report with reports into other crime categories, we might get a better feeling for whether it is particularly neglected or part of a wider problem.

    1. Paul, take my post above. They waste their time on a pre-warned search. That is not down to lack of time or resources. It is either gross stupidity (do I believe a policeman could be that stupid, NO ) or aiding and abetting a crime by pre warning a suspect of a search (if the suspect was guilty).
      The report seems to be littered with other instances of stupidity or misconduct rather than issues related to lack of resources. So lack of resources may be an issue but given the contents of the report I would find it hard to cut them much slack on the resources excuse.

  12. You can’t have the same policeman/woman working on raptor persecution and then in winter working on poaching. One one hand the estate is the enemy and the other the friend not to mention free shooting offered on keepers days.

      1. I don’t think its that straightforward….. poaching could involve illegal firearms, illegal use of legal firearms or in humane killing methods. The financial loss is a minor issue that could be moved to the small claims court…

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