Appalling Police Scotland response to two suspected raptor crimes

BOPwildlifecrimeposter2015 - CopyRegular blog readers will know that we’ve frequently had cause to criticise Police Scotland’s response to suspected wildlife crimes that have been reported to them. Well, we’re about to do it again over their mishandling of two recently reported suspected wildlife crime incidents, one in Dumfries & Galloway and one in South Lanarkshire.

Before we get to the details of the latest fiascos, have a read of the following text that appeared in on page 32 of RSPB Scotland’s recently published 20-year review of raptor persecution:

After the initial finding or reporting of a potential wildlife crime incident, a rapid and properly-directed follow-up is essential to prevent any evidence being removed by the perpetrator, further wildlife falling victim to illegal poisons or traps, removal of victims by scavengers or decomposition of victims. Any of these factors can render obtaining forensic evidence or an accurate post-mortem impossible. In our experience, however, the speed and effectiveness of follow-up investigations and securing of evidence has been highly variable‘.

It is apparent, from the following two incidents, that Police Scotland is still failing to get the basics right.

Incident 1

A member of the public found a decomposing dead buzzard on a grouse moor in an area well-known for its history of raptor persecution. The corpse was found on Saturday 19th December 2015. It was reported to members of the local Raptor Study Group who went to the grid reference provided (just 150 yards from a main road) and confirmed it was indeed a dead buzzard. They reported it to Police Scotland on the morning of Monday 21st December and were told that an officer would attend to collect the corpse and send it for post mortem. Raptor workers went back to the site the next day (Tuesday 22nd) and the corpse was still there. They returned on Wednesday 23rd and the corpse was still there. They returned on Thursday 24th and the corpse was still there. They returned on Saturday 26th and the corpse was still there. They returned on Sunday 27th and the corpse was still there. They returned on Monday 28th December, one week after reporting it to the police, and the corpse had gone. Whether it had finally been collected by Police Scotland or whether it had been scavenged by an animal or removed by a gamekeeper, nobody knows.

Incident 2

On 28th December 2015 a member of the public found a freshly-dead buzzard in a wood, with no obvious cause of death. Previously, snares placed over the entrance of a badger sett had been found in this wood. The nearest grouse moor is approx 1.5 miles away. Because of the history of the location, the member of the public was suspicious and took the buzzard home and called Police Scotland on 101. The member of the public was told by the Police Scotland call operator that the police were unable to help. “In fact at one point he suggested that I take it to a vet or call the ‘RS bird people’. He said that the police could only help if they actually caught the offenders at the scene in which case they would be prosecuted for poaching“. Undeterred, the member of the public found an email address for the local police wildlife crime officer but got an out-of-office reply saying nobody was available until 17th January 2016. Fortunately, a local raptor worker was able to collect the corpse and got in touch with RSPB Scotland who organised for the bird to be sent for post mortem.

The Police Scotland response to both of these incidents was appalling. Now, it may well turn out that in both cases the birds died of natural causes and no crimes had been committed. However, it’s equally plausible, especially given the incident locations, that these birds had been killed illegally. The point is, it’s Police Scotland’s job to investigate these incidents and determine whether a crime has been committed. Their action (and inaction) in these two cases could have severely compromised the outcome.

You may remember a similar incident, not a million miles from these two locations, that happened in 2014. In that case, a dead peregrine had been found by a member of the public but Police Scotland again failed to attend the scene, saying it wasn’t a police matter (see here). The peregrine was collected by RSPB Scotland and the post mortem revealed it had been poisoned with the banned pesticide Carbofuran. Police Scotland’s failure to attend that incident caused quite a stir, with the story being covered in a national newspaper (here) and it also led to questions being asked in Parliament about Police Scotland’s failed response (see here). Police Scotland denied they’d done anything wrong!

In March last year, following the publication of a damning report on the police’s response to various types of wildlife crime incidents over several years, Police Scotland launched an all-singing-all-dancing Wildlife Crime Awareness Campaign, endorsed by the Environment Minister (see here). This campaign (which we welcomed – see here) focused on the six national wildlife crime priorities, including raptor persecution, and included the production of all sorts of campaign material (posters etc) designed to encourage members of the public to report suspected wildlife crimes. That’s all good, but what’s the point if Police Scotland then can’t get their act together to provide a professional response when members of the public report suspicious incidents?

Is it really so hard?

If they’re under-resourced, fine, then they should say so and should be supporting the move to increase the investigatory powers of the SSPCA, not trying to block it. Talking of which, when will Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod make a decision on the SSPCA’s powers? It’s now been 16 months since the public consultation closed. Getting to grips with wildlife crime is supposed to be a ‘key priority’ for the Scottish Government. In February, it’ll be five years since the consultation was first proposed!

87 thoughts on “Appalling Police Scotland response to two suspected raptor crimes”

  1. It must be obvious by now to anyone who has half a brain that the Scottish police are deliberately avoiding involvment with any wildlife crime where birds of prey are concerned, especially if they are anywhere near a shooting estate run by influential owners, which of course is most of them. It’s also becoming quite obvious that the Scottish government ministers have no intention of rocking the boat where influential grouse moor owners are involved, hence the total inaction from that direction.

    1. The Scottish police are not avoiding their duties with regard to Wildlife crime, in my area which is vast area..the police are working flat out to protect all wildlife.
      I wish that people were not so quick to put the blame on the Scottish Ministers, for they too are working hard in bringing about change as to how our land is used, and much to the disgust of many landowners too.

      1. Ms Brackenbury: I find it hard to credit any Minister in any government with having any credibility when it comes to wildlife protection. They are always long on words and short on action. Similarly, I am sick of people being apologists for the police’s inactivity. Certainly in England they can always find a big bunch of them to stop the Hunt Sabs and LACS from filming hunts breaking the law; whereas they are just not there when a poisoned or shot bird is found.

        1. Don’t forget how quickly they can respond to fish or deer poaching reports. If you want to see Police crawling over the moors, call them up and say you are a keeper on an estate and you’ve sighted a poacher. They’ll be all over the place within the hour.

      2. So you don’t think it is the prospect of the sudden lack of invitations to prestigious social occasions, including golf club memberships and shooting weekends that are causing police to have a lack of initiative in certain areas? Because I hate to break it to you, but that sort of snobbery is rife within the police service. I can remember when policemen used to openly brag about not investigating certain crimes in case it got them thrown out the lodge, Masonic and Orange, if they did; and while the popularity of lodge membership as a means to social advancement and prestige may have faded, I don’t think the desire for it in the police service has. It has just moved to a new focus.

  2. What is the best way for us to respond? Do we flood Nicola Sturgeon facebook page with our concerns? They need to know that there is a political cost to their inaction,presumably orchestrated from the top.Are there people who can visit their MP locally to discuss it with them?

  3. We havent moved on much in the last 30 years have we?….This is exactly the situation I inherited in 1984 as an RSPB Investigations Officer….I tried dealing with cases myself – retrieving alleged victims, getting them analysed/post mortemed, even taking statements…that system worked fine as we got more professional..until senior police officers got involved [then SGA, Landowners and their friends in the Crown Office and Civil Service/Government joined in] leading to Police Wildlife Officers and the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime. We passed on our knowledge and skills to these people and offered to help. We were increasingly sidelined. The crimes continued, if anything they seem to have increased…..and now we are back at where we started..which suits the wildlife criminals just fine.

    There is only one answer to this , give the SSPCA full powers to investigate. The police at administrative/senior level have neither the inclination or ability to effectively follow up these crimes….

    On the political front?..Yes!..Flood Nicola and your local MSPs with complaints over this issue – there is massive public support to catch wildlife criminals and always has been, its just never translated into direct action by our politicians or authorities. There are real moves now taking place over Land Reform which the SNP have been encouraged into by popular demands…lets show them the link between land mismanagement and wildlife crime and maybe, just maybe they will do something serious to break this shocking impasse.

  4. Easy answer…………..REPORT TO SSPCA. They will adopt a far more consistent and professional approach.

    The reasons that the police consistently fail to deal with wildlife crimes are well known to everyone. Thats why some insist that only the police should deal with wildlife crime………….to reduce the chances of offenders being caught.

    The NWCU should be doing more to address these issues but won’t because of have succumbed to the political issues and having to ‘ remain neutral’ . This is completely wrong as the two sides are those who commit wildlife crime [criminals] and those who want criminals caught and crimes to reduce.

    NWCU is a complete waste of money and not only has it failed in helping to reduce wildlife crime but has prevented improvement by giving the public and politicians a false sense that something is actually being done.

    Whilst back in the real world the police continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

    Not only haven’t things improved despite [specialist fiscals, NWCU, extra police wildlife crime officers, PAW] things have actually become worse.

    There was more successful , searches, convictions twenty years ago.

    1. Thank you Jane..agree fully with all that…I would just add [didnt want to take up too much space above] that there are and have been, some fine committed police officers [WLOs and NWCU] and Crown and Crown Office prosecutors involved but they were and are fighting against the tide. The saddest thing for me was watching such men and women lose hope after starting so optimistically…Time to rip up all the old ways here…and start afresh with folk unsullied by connections with the countryside mafia.

  5. I honestly can’t understand why so many people think that the SSPCA is capable of handling the sheer volume of wildlife crime that could be reported in Scotland if it were witnessed and reported effectively, even raptor crime alone. I’m not sticking up for Police Scotland, but like all public services they are being starved of resources at the moment and for the foreseeable future. There’s also something wrong with a society that hives off certain types of crime for charities to deal with. To my mind delegating such duties and power to the SSPCA would send out an even stronger message that the law does not consider wildlife crime serious enough to resource properly. It may have some effect in the short term but has implications for the future. So many of the problems we have to face are political, societal and systemic, and that’s how we need to deal with them, while doing the best we can to expose the criminals and kick the authorities into action in the meantime. Sorry to harp on about this, but the RSPB is the body with the political muscle to make a difference, if they would only learn to flex that muscle instead of compromising with the opposition. Time to stand up and fight, RSPB!

    1. If the RSPB did start to ‘flex its muscle’, stop appeasing, and started condemning the cruel treatment of all birds, I for one would certainly re-join them.

      1. I unsubscribed from the RSPB some years ago solely because of the catastrophic decline in England’s hen harriers. With a million-plus members, they are certainly listened to in political circles when they raise important issues. It’s a great shame that Mark Avery’s petition can’t seem to reach the magic 100,000 signatures mark, following which it would have to be debated in parliament . . .

        1. The RSPB is a victim of its own success now. It is seen as a threat by the current Conservative regime, and just like all the other people and agencies it sees as a potential threat to their self-perceived right to get their own way unopposed on any and every issue, they are deploying every conceivable weapon they have against it. If the RSPB pushes too hard then it will either be completely crippled in ways that will last for decades to come, or it will be removed outright. Like the rest of us, the best the RSPB can hope with is simply to survive until the current overlords are swept away.

    2. Interesting comment. You are not the only one who thinks that passing the bucket to charities is not necessarily the best answer. Although some argues that Police Scotland wants nothing to do with wildlife crime thus there would be nothing pass on to SSPCA. Nevertheless, and irrespective of what the police wants, it’s their job to investigate crimes, and giving more powers to SSPCA could be interpreted like letting the police off the hook.

      Also, according to the SSPCA consultation paper ‘In 2012 the SSPCA had 59 trained inspectors and five Special Investigations Unit officers’. Not a massive resource, especially if you consider it that they are primarily an animal welfare charity, so it’s not like suddenly you have 60 extra bodies ready to find dead buzzards on remote moors (ie their inspectors would continue to rescue animals and investigate animal cruelty cases).

      The 101 operators are not constables, so if they insist that the police doesn’t have to investigate wildlife crimes the best thing to do is to ask to speak to the WCO or the WCLO (or if it’s urgent the duty sergeant). Names and emails of divisional WCLOs:

  6. I guess the RSPB is trying to balance the royal charter, the attacks on it from the likes of YFTB, the threats of Government to restrict the actions of charities, and balancing the wide ranging views of its members. I would prefer it to pick up the gauntlet, but I am sure it would meet much venom and criticism if it did. We are not on a very level playing field here, but we do need to find a way of galvanising the troops we have and stick together.I do not see the RSPB as the enemy,but from where we stand they are perhaps a little too careful.

  7. Does RPS (or anybody) think the drop from 139 incidents in 2014 to 52 in 2015 is the result of:-

    a) Less raptor persecution
    b) More efficient hiding of the evidence by perpetrators.
    c) Less reporting by the public
    d) Less police interest in taking action.
    e) Less raptors left to persecute

    Or a combination of any of the above. At first glance theses figures look encouraging but the more I learn, the more cynical I become.

    1. In my opinion, a very large percentage (perhaps the entire 100 per cent) will be formed by a combination of B & D.

      When you consider that the investigating authorities were happy to ignore a quarter of those killed at Conon Bridge, and they refuse to investigate and publicise a considerable number of other incidents, then it is understandable why I, and many others, consider this to be the case.

      For the foreseeable future, the SSPCA should be given more powers, Police Scotland should take a hit on their funding (as they are clearly not doing their job), and if possible, the money should be diverted to the SSPCA.

      When you consider the exemplary work carried out by the very small RSPB investigations team, it could easily be argued that 5 SSPCA officers would accomplish more than the combined efforts of Police Scotland.

      So, on that issue, SNP/Scottish Government, is there any chance we can see some action on this, rather than meaningless platitudes?

      1. There’s only one answer to that, Marco. Dr Aileen McLeod. I’m certainly not anti-SNP in principle, but we have to recognise their terrible record on matters environmental and ecological. As proud nationalists they promote renewable energy for the future, but are perversely quite prepared to destroy Scotland’s historical wild landscapes with massive and intrusive industrial wind farms. They have imposed drastic spending cuts on Scottish Natural Heritage, and severely damaged the biodiversity process in Scotland mid-flow by diverting local authority and other grant budgets away from wildlife conservation. They have rebalanced nature conservation in Scotland to suit the shooting and stalking community, and in their insidious Wildlife & Natural Environment Act set the scene for a future agenda that could have been predetermined by the Countryside Alliance. By amalgamating the Deer Commission with SNH they have inserted a culture of culling as a first rather than last step. All this is allowing the wider countryside culture to drift in a direction which is sympathetic to the killing of wildlife as a tourist attraction to “Scotland’s Natural Larder” (for the toffs), sitting uncomfortably alongside wildlife tourism (for the rest). I hope to work on my local MSP in an attempt to convince her that Scotland’s natural heritage is worth much more than that, and deserves greater priority in future. Now that they’ve fallen out with Donald Trump there might even be some hope of succeeding. More of us should spend more time attending MSP surgeries, and writing to local elected representatives, to raise political awareness of the deplorable impact of raptor persecution and hunting in general.

        1. It goes without saying that the SNP are far from perfect in all matters environmental, and Aileen McLeod has been an absolute disaster from day one, but what you are suggesting is that all of these troubles started when the SNP came to power in 2007.

          Vicarious Liability was a decent step forward (although Police Scotland don’t seem to be too keen on applying this law), the poisons amnesty was another step forward, the proposal to give SSPCA additional powers is a good thing (if it is ever implemented), as are the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group suggestions (if they are also implemented). And then there is the Land Reform process.

          Let’s face facts, the environmental landscape was being largely destroyed long before 2007, with large-scale non-native forestry plantations blotting the landscape (not to mention the subsequent felling operations), and wind farms were already being built in Scotland. We also have to consider that many of the applications that were passed by the SNP government, would have been in the planning system before they came to power. Indeed, a number of wind farms for your own study area were proposed long before the SNP had any say in the matter.

          Yes, perhaps spending cuts have been imposed on some organisations, and unfortunately whenever money is tight, it is invariably those organisations and pursuits that are perceived to be “minority” that are always the ones to suffer. I don’t believe this should be the approach, but if the government of the day is faced with providing free healthcare to all, free prescriptions and free tuition fees, those three will always win, and wildlife matters (along with other perceived minority interests) will suffer as a result. But just imagine how better off the country would be with full control of all of our generated income!

          Wasn’t the Deer Commission for Scotland formed just a few short years before the amalgamation with SNH? Again, we have to look at the facts of the matter. Red Deer have no natural land-based predators, and they have been managed for the benefit of landowners for centuries, so the culling mentality was already ingrained in this sector, and cannot possibly be attributed to the actions of the SNP since they came to power.

          I’m really at a loss as to why you blame the SNP for the “drift in a direction which is sympathetic to the killing of wildlife as a tourist attraction”. This has been the attitude for decades, Jack. At the onset of every bloody August that I can remember, we are repeatedly informed of the Glorious 12th, from newspapers to televised news, from radio stations to magazine articles.

          As for Donald Trump, you’ve fallen for the SNP-bad routine so often used by the UK mainstream media and unionist politicians. Just to clarify a couple of issues regarding the perceived friendship between the SNP and Donald Trump, it was Jack McConnell that made Donald Trump a Global Scot Ambassador, and it was Jack McConnell that promoted the golf course on the Menie Estate. For those that don’t know, Jack McConnell was in the Labour Party – another of those fake socialists that was bought on the promise of an ermine robe.

          1. Marco, I don’t want to risk going too off-topic by replying in detail, but I have to say that I did not intend to suggest that all these problems started with SNP. However what is important is that they haven’t resolved any problems created by their Labour predecessors, they’ve made them worse! I’d go as far as to say they are bringing about the downfall of the biodiversity process in many local authority areas in Scotland.

            I was not referring to Red Deer in my accusations concerning Deer Commission Scotland and their merger into Scottish Natural Heritage. I was expressing concern about the “species management” culture they introduced to what was formerly a more wildlife friendly and conservation orientated government advisory agency. The SNP Government sanctioned this merger.

            I think you underestimate the severity of the spending cuts on formerly ring-fenced conservation budgets imposed by the SNP Government.

            1. OK Jack, perhaps I have misinterpreted your initial comment, for which I tender my apologies, but I have to disagree that things are worse now than when Labour ran the country. There has been progress in some areas (albeit painfully slow), and what can only be described as backward steps in other areas.

              I have already given my take on the spending cuts issue, and I stand by it. We have to realise that the SNP came to power just at the time the world was facing the largest financial crisis for decades, and since then they have had to balance the books, even though the block grant has taken real-term year on year cuts. As previously mentioned, and it saddens me that it happens, but if a government is faced with maintaining popular policies that benefit the majority, such as free healthcare and free prescriptions, then other areas such as conservation will inevitably take the hit. This is, in my opinion, the real reason why these cuts happened, and not an anti-conservation agenda being taken by the SNP.

              Yes, the SNP government sanctioned the merger between DCS and SNH, but again could this have been down to a cost cutting exercise as a result of block grant cuts?

              1. Marco, I’m starting to worry about my own ability to get points across, because from my perspective you often seem to misinterpret them. Of course block grant cuts are part of the equation, but my point is that the current Scottish Government does not show the political will required to lend sufficient gravity to the matters that we are concerned about. I think you need to try to understand the political reality behind the cuts, and not be taken in with the idea that austerity is as crucial as the Tories (in particular) would have us believe. Please note where I distinguish between the terms popular and populist, because you seem to be confusing the two. Please also understand that I’m expressing concern over the SNP’s strength in the policy area of wildlife and nature conservation; I don’t need convinced that in many respects they serve the electorate better than New Labour did. It just so happens the Scottish Labour Party were stronger on conservation policies AND funding; they were getting somewhere, but SNP has moved us back in time. If you’re an SNP supporter, or even better if you’re a member, perhaps you should be trying to persuade them to reprioritise, rather than arguing with me! Just to make it clear that I don’t have a hidden agenda, in general political terms I’m an unashamed socialist who voted SNP at the last general election. However I don’t support them unconditionally.

                1. Jack, when Scottish Labour (there really is no such thing) were in power in Scotland, they had the benefit of a block grant that increased every year, but more or less since the SNP came to power, the block grant has been cut year on year. That is the reality, and no matter how much we care about conservation, it is seen as a minority issue by governments, and when money is tight, minority issues will suffer the funding cuts. Labour were in a position to throw money at things, the SNP have not been so lucky in that respect.

                  As for austerity, it doesn’t matter if we believe the Tory line or not, but they control the amount of money that Scotland gets, and it gets cut year on year in real terms. There’s nothing that the Scottish government can do about it.

                  Regarding the SNP, I suppose my relationship with them mirrors that of my relationship with the RSPB. I do not belong to either organisation, but If I feel they need criticising, then I will do so, however I will offer my support for them if I feel they are being unfairly targeted.

                  1. Marco, there’s no point in continuing this dialogue, as you persist in missing my point completely. I can’t see how I can make it any more clear. It’s very frustrating, almost worse than dealing with the enemy! You are just repeating yourself.

                    1. I don’t think I am missing your point. You maintain that things are much worse under the SNP, than they were under Scottish Labour, and I disagree with that point.

                      I consider the introduction of vicarious liability a positive step, I consider granting the SSPCA additional powers a positive step, I consider the poisons amnesty a positive step, I consider the Wildlife Penalties Group submission a positive step, and I consider Land Reform a positive step. Perhaps you don’t believe these steps will achieve much, and perhaps you consider them to be backward steps, but that is up to you.

                      As for repeating myself, you have repeated your position that Scottish Labour provided more money for conservation projects, whereas the SNP has imposed drastic cuts and are only interested in destroying the landscape and damaging biodiversity. I have merely pointed out that Labour were in a position to do so, but the SNP has not had the money to do so.

                    2. Marco, have the last word as you seem determined to do. I’m growing weary of your blinkered attitude and being told what I think. It’s all nonsense. If you’re going to argue against the evidence of someone who has nearly thirty years of professional experience as a Local Government Ecologist, and who is basically on the same side as you, then I’m clearly wasting my time, and you yours.

                    3. I’ve got a blinkered attitude? Christ, that is a laugh!

                      You went into the SNP-bad tirade, and all I’ve done is try to point out some reasons why I believe the SNP has acted differently from Labour, mainly as a result of the Labour benefitting from year on year increases to the block grant, whereas the SNP has had to deal with year on year cuts.

                      Anyway, let’s recap on some of your comments;

                      “we have to recognise their terrible record on matters environmental and ecological”
                      “but are perversely quite prepared to destroy Scotland’s historical wild landscapes”
                      “They have imposed drastic spending cuts on Scottish Natural Heritage”
                      “severely damaged the biodiversity process in Scotland”
                      “They have rebalanced nature conservation in Scotland to suit the shooting and stalking community”
                      “All this is allowing the wider countryside culture to drift in a direction which is sympathetic to the killing of wildlife as a tourist attraction”
                      “they haven’t resolved any problems created by their Labour predecessors, they’ve made them worse!”
                      “they are bringing about the downfall of the biodiversity process in many local authority areas in Scotland.”
                      “you underestimate the severity of the spending cuts on formerly ring-fenced conservation budgets imposed by the SNP Government”
                      “the current Scottish Government does not show the political will required to lend sufficient gravity to the matters that we are concerned about”
                      “I’m expressing concern over the SNP’s strength in the policy area of wildlife and nature conservation”
                      “it just so happens the Scottish Labour Party were stronger on conservation policies AND funding”
                      “they [Labour] were getting somewhere, but SNP has moved us back in time”

                      You provided those comments, and I disagree with them, so I am perfectly entitled to challenge them if I see fit.

                      And when did I tell you what to think? All I’ve done is provide my opinions on the topics that you instigated. Am I not allowed to offer my opinion? Is your opinion the only one that matters, and others should be denied a right of reply?

                      As for your vast experience in local government, it is partly irrelevant. The current Scottish Parliament has been in existence for less than twenty years, so much of your experience in local government would have occurred when there was no sitting Scottish Parliament.

                      And finally, the funding argument can easily be turned against the local authorities. As mentioned, the SNP-led government has had to deal with drastic reductions to the block grant, and this inevitably led to local authority funding being slashed. The various local authorities could easily have maintained their conservation policies and workforces at the expense of other things, but they chose not to.

                      Any sensible person would realise that apportioning blame to the local authorities or the Scottish Government is pointless, because the main problem stems from the budget cuts that have been forced upon Scotland by the UK government.

  8. you all miss the point here. no one is saying that the SSPCA are a silver bullet. They would simply act as an additional resource to work jointly with the police. Particularly in cases when police have difficulty responding, i.e the cases reffered to in this thread.

    Being precious and territorial does not help.

    SSPCA are doing something right as they consitantly investigate cases involoving wildlife that result in succesful prosecutions.

    I cannot see why being a charity comes into it…….this is an outdated attitude.

    1. Sorry Johnny boy, but with respect I think it’s you who’s missing the point. SSPCA may do a great job protecting domestic animals from cruelty, and the limited amount of work they do to investigate wildlife crimes, but the latter is a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the problem. I don’t see any of the individuals who share my concerns being precious or territorial, so that point is not relevant. You have an interesting vision of a civilised modern society if you truly believe that certain areas of crime prevention and policing can be handed over to charities to deal with, which in terms of being outdated is positively Victorian! I’m not saying the SSPCA doesn’t have an important role to play, but working with the police can continue without giving them excess powers. My main worry is that the police will just leave them to get on with it themselves, and the message this sends out to the wildlife criminals. We need the politicians to take matters more seriously, and the only organisation with the strength to lobby effectively is the RSPB, with the backing of its million members. If only they had the will to do so.

    2. They already are acting as additional resource. In 2014 SSPCA invesigated 16 wildlife cases, of which 6 was a joint investigation with Police Scotland.
      (See: PE1544/A No doubt that giving them additional powers would help them pursuing wildlife crime cases, but I wouldn’t expect them to handle significantly more wildlife cases. I think they are reluctant to accept any direct funding from the government (this might just be my perception though).

      I agree that being territorial is not helpful, it was surprising to see Malcolm Graham ACC being so hostile to giving additional powers to SSPCA (which are not significant powers at all) when he was giving evidence to RACCE Committee in 2014 (

      I don’t think the fact that SSPCA is a charity is relevant (it could be for-profit), what appear to concern some is that it’s a private organisation whose employees have investigative powers and direct access to the Police National Computer – it execises a public function, but it’s not subject to the levels of accountability public bodies usually are (eg. not under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Information Commissioner and/or Scottish Public Services Ombudsman).

      1. Adam……………………… certainly doesn’t appear to be an issue when SSPCA investigate other crimes including dog fighting, badger baiting etc so why should wildlife crime be any different.

        I would suspect their prosecution cases will come under the exact same scrutiny that any other body that report direct to the Procurator Fiscal.

        1. My perception is that some already thinks that there is an issue whether or not they receive more powers. I don’t think wildlife crime should be any different (I think that’s exactly my point!).

          Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (section 19ZC) Scottish Ministers can authorise any person to be ‘wildlife inspector’, so I’m not sure what is stopping them to authorise employees of the SSPCA or any other organisation. (It’s worth noting that just because SSPCA inspectors don’t have powers to enter to land and seize evidence in relation to Part 1 offences they can still investigate wildlife crimes (see my previous comment), but I reckon it can make it a bit difficult.)

          I suspect SSPCA cases do come under the same scrutiny as other cases, but that scrutiny will relate to whether the case can be prosecuted or not: was there a crime, is there enough evidence, is it in the public interest to prosecute. COPFS is not a regulator, an oversight or a scrutiny body of the investigating agencies, it’s the public prosecutor.

          I’m not, in principle, againt giving more powers to any body, SSPCA or any other, I just don’t think it’s always as straighforward as it seems.

          [Ed: Have removed the last para of your comment – yes, we’ve seen it and will be commenting in full in due course – just don’t want to publicise it until we’re ready! Thanks for sending the link]

    1. Swift response from the Police, quick forensic work and a punishment that acts as a deterrent to others, this is not the first time Malta has come down hard on its criminal hunting elements, Scotland and England must now rank bottom in tackling wildlife crime. certain wildlife organisations want us to boycott Malta as a holiday destination because of the continuation of hunting during spring migration, Scotland and Northern England should also be added to this list because of the continuance of the illegal persecution of Raptors, mountain Hares and just about any other living thing that dares look at a grouse.

  9. Sorry to bring up the old Conon Bridge chestnut but there were numerous investigative officers, an RSPB person etc. stopped every vehicle and searched it, even holiday makers and we still haven’t got the answer. The police force are over stretched and these wouldn’t be the only crimes not getting immediate response. I do not believe the RSPB have an impartial enough perspective to conduct a proper inquiry.

    1. In case anyone gets the wrong idea from your comment, the RSPB cannot and never have had the power to stop and search anyone..they can and have been directed by a police officer to help with a search of land/vehicle/building…Forget the RSPB here. Giving the RSPCA full powers gives them the ability to respond fast to wildlife crime.Marco is correct about the effect one or two fully dedicated, experienced and very importantly expert in wildlife and other countryside matters, had when allowed to get on with the job [see my comment above]. Theres no point in saying “theres too much to handle” and “the police should be brought to account” – this needs dealing with, on the ground then in court rooms NOW…not in some utopian future, weve known the problems over the fallibility of the system for the best part of three decades. The fight against egg theft where charities, police and the court system all [eventually] pulled together, showed that you can win battles in this was against wildlife crime….but for all the reasons above the police are not going to win this part of it.

      1. My comment does not suggest the RSPB did the stop and search, but I couldn’t see the relevance of their presence at a property search. It was also suggested in an earlier post that RSPB could carry out investigations. My main issue is with why an answer has not been forthcoming on such a large scale case.

        1. Yes, the RSPB has an Investigations department, with a small team of highly trained experts in their field, and they are able to detect potential wildlife crimes and gather evidence in such matters. They have no powers of entry, search, seizure, arrest, etc. but they can assist police officers in these matters.

          As for the why no answer has been forthcoming in the Conon Bridge case, perhaps police corruption is the cause?

    2. The proposal is for SSPCA officers to investigate wildlife crimes, not the RSPB. Why would you bring that up?

      You wouldn’t be a pro-shooting troll ordered on here to deflect the issue from illegal persecution to RSPB-bad, by any chance?

        1. Don’t make excuses for them, Jack. It’s the typical deflection tactics, and he/she knew full well what the intention was.

          The SSPCA is basically the Scottish equivalent of the RSPCA, so Dave’s very minor error was excusable, but as there is no such similar organisation as the RSPB operating solely in Scotland, it was a deliberate ploy to avert the criticisms of the shooting industry and their allies in the Police Scotland hierarchy.

      1. Have been called many things before but never a troll. I do shoot and work a gundog at shoots. That should not prevent me from making my comments and observations, that would make it a more balanced debate surely.

        1. The RSPB is not the topic of this post, so why did you end your piece with “I do not believe the RSPB have an impartial enough perspective to conduct a proper inquiry.”?

          Sadly, it’s the usual RSPB-bad deflection tactics from the shooting industry, so in that respect, I was entitled to call out a troll.

          1. My apologies for appearing to be a troll! I think the investigations should lie solely with a body paid for by the tax payer so that investigations are evidence based and factual. With the best will in the world I do not believe that charities such as SSPCA or RSPB are able to provide that impartial and un-emotive approach. Where genuine wrong doing has been undertaken I don’t think anyone would disagree with prosecution. Surely better for both sides to work together to improve conservation efforts rather than having vindictive attacks on one another.

            1. But the organisation that is funded by the tax-payer to provide this service is clearly (and deliberately in many cases) failing to carry out their duties.

              You also intimate that the inclusion of the SSPCA and the RSPB (again, why mention the RSPB?) are incapable of providing factual, evidence-based accounts because you consider them to be impartial.

              What about water bailiffs? Surely, those employed by fishery boards (who have stop, search, entry, seizure and arrest powers) cannot possibly be seen to provide an “impartial and un-emotive approach”?

              So, as a result of your belief, when will you be starting your campaign to rid the country of water bailiffs?

                1. No, because if a landowner considers someone to be trespassing or poaching, the police will act, sometimes immediately. If the poaching involves fish, then water bailiffs already have the powers.

                    1. Which point have I “missed” this time?

                      I am in favour of the SSPCA being granted more powers, and you are clearly against the idea. As a result of my belief, you asked me a question. I provided a reply. Isn’t that how it woks?

                      It is patently obvious that Police Scotland deal with raptor persecution incidents in a completely different manner in which they treat poaching and trespass, therefore if Police Scotland repeatedly fail to investigate persecution incidents, then it is time to use other resources. As the SSPCA is willing to be used in a manner very similar to water bailiffs, I honestly can’t see what the problem is.

            2. And just to comment on your final sentence, there’s been partnership working for years now, but there are certain sections of the partnership that repeatedly operate in an illegal manner and will implicitly ignore the extent of the problem – and another part of the partnership that doesn’t seem too interested in investigating these crimes.

              What would be your suggestions for working together to “improve conservation efforts”?

            3. Umm, did you read Dave Dick’s comments? You do realise his experience?
              How can you ignore them unless of course it is just convenient to do so.
              You are assuming the police are ‘impartial and un-emotive’. I am afraid this does not fit with the facts either although there are exceptions (again read Dave’s comments).
              Better still if you say you aren’t a troll, read his book ‘Wildlife Crime: The making of an Investigations Officer’.

  10. Im struggling to see the story here.
    There must be 100000 buzzards in scotland.
    2 of them were found dead.
    You cannot expect the police to investigate every single carcass reported to them.
    Even your analogy of badger baiting or poaching doesn’t fit here.
    If you were to report every person walking over a moor as a poacher, the police would ignore you.
    If you were to report every dog owner with a terrier, or a dog with scars the police would fail to respond.
    Its different if the carcass is fresh and shows signs of having been shot or close to a some bait.
    Expecting police to investigate every carcass, what ever, will simply dilute effort and probably lead to missing some actual crimes.
    Just out of interest, did anyone inspect these carcasses’ for poison of shot?
    In a real world of finite resources, it would be wise to use these resources wisely.

    1. The population size of the buzzard in Scotland is totally irrelevant. It’s a bit like saying there are millions of people in Scotland so we can’t expect the police to investigate every single dead body that’s reported to them.

      It’s Police Scotland’s statutory responsibility to investigate suspected wildlife crimes, so yes, we can and should expect them to investigate every single carcass reported to them. If they don’t have the resources to cope with this then they should say so.

      If, during their investigation, the circumstances suggest no crime has taken place then fine, that’ll be the end of it. However, when carcasses are reported to them in areas with a history of wildlife crime, as in these two cases, they should respond promptly to have the best chance of securing evidence.

      1. That’s just it.
        The police don’t investigate every death.
        They dont inspect every death in high crime areas either.
        Are you really saying that every dead buzzard found should be reported, and the police investigate.
        Even just 5% of the dead buzzard population would be 5000 per anum.
        They only inspect human deaths, where there is some suspicion.
        In this case so far, the only suspicion is that its close to a moor.

        1. You’re missing the point (deliberately?).

          There is reasonable suspicion in both these cases that the birds were victims of wildlife crime.

          One was found on a grouse moor (not “close to it”, as you suggest) in an area with a long history of raptor persecution. Police Scotland accepted that it was suspicious because they agreed to send out an officer to collect the carcass for PM. The problem we have with their response is that it took them seven days to get an officer to the scene (and we’re assuming they did attend the scene to collect it – they might not have done!).

          The other one was found in a wood, also with a history of wildlife crime. The police response (via the police call centre operator) was wrong on every level.

    2. Just to clarify the population status of Buzzards in Scotland (although as RPS point out this is barely relevant to the argument), Birds of Scotland (Forrester et al) estimated the post-breeding population in 2003 as approximately 50,000 individuals. Regional studies show evidence of a yet unexplained decline approaching a cumulative 45% during the years 2008-2013, so the current post-breeding population in Scotland could now be closer to 30,000 birds, i.e. 30% of Alan’s estimate.

      1. Jack, the number is relevant as it demonstrates the amount of naturally occurring dead buzzards expected to be on the ground each year.
        As a small point, I would have thought if there was 50000 breeding adults, then at some times of the year, it would not be unreasonable to double that number for total population including juveniles.
        I do agree that there has been a considerable decline and still is in my area.
        In 2010, there literally was a buzzard nest every 1km.
        When the field was being ploughed behind my house, there was 11 buzzards following the plough
        5 years on there is at best half the nests and in an identical scenario, there was 2 buzzards following the plough.
        One of the first areas for buzzards to disappear was on the black isle beside lots of kites.
        There is also a lot of kites beside me.
        I don’t know if there is any correlation or not.
        When discussing with the RSPB they seemed to think not.
        Where I stay isn’t on a shooting estate, but is within 10 to 20 miles of some of the worst.
        There has been a lot of buzzard carcasses over the last 3 to 4 years.
        Not shot and not poisoned.
        Probably adding to the case that the 2 birds may just have died.
        That’s why I find it hard to consider this is a story unless something other than a corpse comes out of it.
        I assume we will find out one way or another when the post mortem is carried out and if the police confirm they picked up the other one.

        1. Alan, just to clarify the population stats. The estimate is not of 50,000 breeding adults. Note that I described that as the “post-breeding” population, which includes the progeny of the year. The estimated breeding population in 2003 was 15,000 to 20,000 breeding pairs, which in the light of the subsequent decline I would revise to approximately 11,000 pairs.

          It’s difficult to assess statistically how many dead Buzzards are likely to have died of natural causes. As someone who has spent most of the past 50 years active in the field, I would say it is extremely rare to find a dead Buzzard, other than road kill. So I think it is fair enough to suspect foul play when one is found in certain circumstances as described by RPS, and certainly worth investigating.

  11. Out of interest, going by the thread title will these 2 dead buzzards be counted anywhere as suspected crimes and used statistically?

  12. SSPCA can and do investigate wildlife offences in cases where animal has been caused to suffer i.e. Snaring, trapping, baiting. If an animal is involved wildlife crimes almost always involve animal cruelty.

    The problem is where an animal has not been involved at that time, ie a line of snares, or illegal traps

    Lack of powers prevents SSPCA from recovering these items as admissible evidence.

    Given that they are already successfully investigating wildlife crime why on earth would anyone who wishes to see a reduction in wildlife crime not want SSPCA to be given these powers? Lack of accountability, lack of staff and all the other reasons being used are simply smoke screens and untrue. Of course SSPCA can’t solve the issue of wildlife crime but they can definitely improve things most importantly when police do not have the resources to dispatch resources at very short notice into isolated locations. Which is mostly likely the reason the two incidents referred to in this thread occurred.

    I understand why some say that police should step up to the mark and do a better job and there would be no need for SSPCA to be given additional powers. The reality is for a great many reasons this is just not going to happen.
    Police are not the only organisation that investigate and report crime to the procurator fiscal. There are 50 plus other organisations in Scotland that can do this.

    Giving additional powers to SSPCA will definitely improve the current situation and if the police feel that it will result in them becoming less involved then so be it. There past record is frankly deplorable, the same mistakes being made over and over, Conon Bridge, Leadhills, Raeshaw,Angus Glens, Invernesshire the list goes on and on.

    If you truly want things to improve you will support giving increased powers to SSPCA.

    1. Just out of curosity, in what way lack of accountability, lack of resources, ‘and all the other reasons’ (whatever they might be) are ‘untrue’?

  13. SSPCA have consistently proved for over 140 years (that’s how long they have reported to the Procurator Fiscal) that they are able to investigate crimes involving animals.

    It is extremely questionable why some should seek to portray this any other way.

    You are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem. SSPCA certainly appear to be part of the solution. Wildlife crime would greatly benefit from another tool in the toolbox.

    As for the other organizations………………………….you decide

    Next time there is an illegally killed eagle is found or a large scale poisoning ask yourself if anything has changed?

    1. Jane, as you appear to have some insight to the workings of SSPCA, can you reassure us how SSPCA will cope with the hugely extended work demand, given their current staff resources are stretched to the limit, and no additional financial support appears to be on offer? Or is it? So far I haven’t found an answer to that question. I don’t doubt the ability of existing front-line staff to carry out investigations, but where’s the money and additional staff coming from to take over duties which are currently seriously under-performed by Police Scotland? Please allay my fears that this is a Scottish Government ploy, to cut spending and a diversionary tactic to transfer the blame for any future inefficiency onto a third party. This isn’t another tool in the toolbox, it’s a replacement.

      It also seems to me that SSPCA would be drifting from their principal objective, i.e. to prevent cruelty to animals, just as the RSPB has drifted away to some degree from protection of all birds. And before someone replies that shooting birds of prey is cruel, according to the RSPB wildfowl and game shooting is not cruel, so how can we argue that using the same method to remove raptors isn’t humane? However it’s despicable and abhorrent, and crucially illegal, so it is my opinion that the matter is one for the police to handle. Just because they’re making a crap job of it doesn’t mean we should hand responsibility over to a charity. To my mind that is a derogation of Government duty.

      1. If the new powers are granted, the SSPCA wouldn’t be ‘taking over’ the duties of the police. Police Scotland aren’t being pushed out of wildlife crime investigations at all – they could continue with their role (albeit not very well in some areas). All the new powers would do is permit the SSPCA to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crimes than they do already, but without needing an invitation from Police Scotland. Currently, the SSPCA successfully investigates a wide range of wildlife crimes but do not have the power to seize evidence from incidents that don’t involve an animal in distress. So for example, if they were called out to investigate an eagle caught in an illegal trap, but by the time they arrived the bird had ‘disappeared’ but other illegal traps were present, the SSPCA wouldn’t be able to investigate/seize evidence. If the bird was still in position, they would be able to investigate. It’s ludicrous!

        1. Thanks RPS. I don’t think anyone has answered my concerns so succinctly before. That reassures me to a considerable degree, but still a wee bit worried when you use the word “could” instead of “would” when you say the police “could” continue with their role! I suppose what I’m being really persistent about is that we should not reduce pressure on the police to get their act together. To be honest right now I’m more worried to have discovered how little certain wildlife organisations and bird clubs have done to help the cause. One significant Scottish bird club in particular has apparently decided not to alert its members to Mark Avery’s petition. I hope to find out why not. I’m not an RSPB member so don’t know if they have publicised it. I can understand why they might not urge their members to sign, but have they at least let them know it is a personal option?

          1. The word ‘could’ was chosen deliberately! Police Scotland COULD still respond to reports of suspected wildlife crime – whether they WOULD or not is another matter, as we’ve seen!

            To be clear though – the new powers for the SSPCA would not take the role away from Police Scotland. Police Scotland would still have a statutory responsibility to respond to suspected wildlife crimes that are reported to them. But if someone reported the incident to the SSPCA, they would also have the authority to investigate it.

            So additional powers for the SSPCA would be an added, free resource to help out a police force that clearly can’t cope on its own.

            It’s an absolute no brainer, in our opinion.

          2. I emailed a birders group in an area where grouse moors proliferate and asked them to publicise a talk by Mark Avery about “Inglorious”and got this reply.

            ” we are not a pressure group and there are sufficient organisations to join relating to wildlife matters. We leave it to our members to choose their own preferences.”

            With friends like that, who needs enemies! I mean I was only asking them to inform their members so they could choose whether to attend the talk. There seems little unity in birding organisations. Divide and rule.

            1. That was the reply I received from RSPB when I left, after many years, in disgust after Martin Harper came out in defence of pheasant shoots.

              1. I wonder if the founders of the RSPB would agree that they were not a pressure group? We appear to be living in 1984, George Orwell’s 1984 that is.

  14. Jack

    Even if the SSPCA were to use the powers effectively in one single case this to my mind would justify granting the additional powers.

    No one is suggesting SSPCA take over investigating all wildlife crime.

    Doesn’t snaring trapping and poisoning have a serious cruelty element and using extra powers to seize and prosecute offenders PREVENT CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, [the primary role of the SSPCA]

    You stick to your views Jack but don’t complain when nothing changes and the killing of Scotland’s wildlife continues on an industrial scale.

    1. That’s a bit harsh, Jane. I can assure you no-one is keener than me to sort out this mess. Haven’t you read my response to RPS above – I have been somewhat reassured by their explanation. I have dedicated a large part of my life to nature conservation, especially Hen Harrier in the latter years, so I don’t appreciate being treated like some idiot. Your final sentence could equally be applied to you in the case of SSPCA being granted additional powers. I suspect there will be little change anyway. We are up against an enemy I fear we are underestimating, and even RSPB Investigations Unit admits that the current persecution records represent only the tip of the iceberg. One thing I think the SSPCA is not is the cavalry riding over the hill, and I have considerable doubts as to whether the new powers will make a significant difference considering the scale of the problem. However I am no longer opposed following RPS’s reply. I speak from bitter experience of trying to deal with the SSPCA in the past, and a knowledge that certain senior managers are more intent on empire building than in solving wildlife crime.

      I find it very disappointing that my attempts to be helpful result in some hostility from the side I’m actually supporting. Too much over-sensitivity involved.

  15. Snipe by name snipe by nature.

    Now you are alluding to the real reason you are against the proposal…….a personal issue that happened some time in the past.

    Let that go and look forward and don’t miss a very real opportunity which could really help a very serious issue. It be a very long time before such an opertuntity comes around again.

    1. That is just ridiculous and insulting in the extreme. The matter I alluded to has no bearing on this issue, other than that it gave me some insight to the real agenda of certain senior officers in that organisation. I am not interested in participating in a slanging match, especially with someone who doesn’t appear to have any insight or understanding of the true scale of the raptor persecution problem. There was no need for you to launch a personal attack on someone because we disagree over one aspect. I will not respond to any more goading from yourself. It has no place on this site, and I suggest you desist unless you have anything constructive to add.

      1. No apologises will be given Snipe

        As I said in an earlier post

        You are either part of the problem or you are part of the solution.

        As for my knowledge of raptor crime you have absolutely no knowledge what so ever of what my understanding of this subject is.

        I to do not wish to enter into a slanging match but find your comments clumsy, presumptuous and intended to pass yourself off as knowing more on the subject than others.

        It’s a pity that wildlife crime won’t benefit from your support in having additional resources which are, Scotland wide, well trained, have a proven track record and are free.

        Maybe you know better. Ask yourself that when the next serious incident occurs and is criticised for lack of an appropriate investigation by the the police.

        1. Dear Johnny boy John, my comment was a reply to Jane Cooper, not yourself. I did not ask you for an apology. However you have apparently shown yourself also to be unnecessarily personal in putting across your argument. To be honest I’m getting rather weary of the personal abuse I’m receiving on this site simply for expressing personal opinions, attempting to constructively contribute to the discussions, and attempting to offer the benefit of my knowledge and experience in the field. I don’t claim to be any more expert than RPS or others taking part, but I do have a considerable knowledge of harrier ecology, as an amateur ornithologist and professional consultant, as well as a lifelong experience as a naturalist, so maybe I do know more on the subject than you do. I have carried out private investigations into the activities of gamekeepers and other wildlife criminals, and passed information on to the relevant authorities. However, as you point out, I don’t know you from Adam and shouldn’t be so presumptuous. If I were you I’d reserve my bitterness for the criminals who are killing raptors. And by the way, you’re correct in saying that wildlife crime won’t benefit from my support! I intend to continue doing whatever I can to defeat it.

          [Ed: message to Jack Snipe, Jane Cooper, Johnny Boy John – enough now]

      1. OK, ill change the question.
        One of the birds was taken by the RSPB in January for a post mortem.
        Did the bird die of natural causes or was there any evidence of foul play?
        If the RSPB are not giving any details, are they part of a cover up too?



  16. Im writing slowly back.
    This article is about suspected bird crime and accusing the police of poor performance.
    It looks like no crime was commited.
    But you seem happy to still have the headline.
    It looks to me that 2 buzzards died, plain and simple.
    I would have thought if this was a real story you would still be pursuing the police and RSPB for action.
    Flash headlines like this are great for whipping some in to a frenzy of self righteousness and indignation, but distracts from the issue of real wildlife crime and it prevention.

    1. Very happy with the headline we used, thanks.

      No idea whether these two SUSPECTED crimes have been investigated or not. It’s pointless pursuing the police for a response, as you’ll have seen from other posts on this blog, because you’ll just get the now routine reply ‘it’s a live case so we can’t comment’.

      We’ll just have to wait a couple of years until the Govt’s 2016 wildlife crime report is published and hope that the information isn’t ‘withheld’.

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