Environment Minister accepts recommendations by wildlife crime penalties review group

Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group Report 2015 - CopySome good news for a change!

You may remember back in November 2015 the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group published its findings on how wildlife crime in Scotland is dealt with by the criminal justice system. The group concluded that the current system of wildife crime penalties in Scotland is wholly inadequate and the current penalties do not act as a deterrent to would-be offenders. The group produced ten short and medium term recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider, all of which we supported, including a call for increasing the maximum penalty from the current £5,000 to £40,000 (see here for our earlier blog on this).

This morning, Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod has responded to the report and has accepted the recommendations. She said:

Wildlife crime has no place in modern Scotland, this is why I have decided to increase the maximum available penalties to bring wildlife offences into line with other environmental crimes. It is important we have appropriate penalties that deter criminality but also reflect the impact these crimes can have on our environment and Scotland’s reputation as a wildlife tourism destination. Work will now begin on bringing together a list of relevant offences this change would apply to.

We already have the strongest wildlife legislation in the UK, in 2012 we implemented the vicarious liability provisions in relation to offences involving wild birds and we recently secured the second conviction under these provisions. We also funded the pesticide disposal scheme which removed over 700kg of illegally held poisons in Scotland. But I am determined to do even more to end these crimes that threaten the survival of some species and inflict cruelty on others.

I would also like to reiterate my thanks to the wildlife crime penalties review group and to Professor Poustie for their extensive work on this report.”


Further details of the recommendations, and the Scottish Government’s response to each one, can be found in this letter from the Environment Minister to Professor Poustie, the Chair of the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group: Scot Gov response Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Feb 2016

This is a good start. Of course, the devil will be in the detail as the Government considers how to incorporate the necessary legislative changes and also how much pressure it applies on Westminster to make changes for which it has jurisdiction, but at this stage we applaud the Minister’s intent and we’ll follow what we hope will be substantial progress as it’s made over the coming months/years.

But, as we said in November, the legislation alone is not enough. There’s no point having effective deterrent penalties if the enforcement isn’t there to get the wildlife criminals to court to face such penalties. This brings us neatly back to the SSPCA consultation – where are the increased investigatory powers for the SSPCA? When will the Environment Minister be making a decision on this? The consultation closed in September 2014. It’s been sitting on her desk for almost 18 months. The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee has pressed the Minister for an answer (here)…..we’re still waiting…..

UPDATE 17.30hrs:

RSPB Scotland’s response to the Minister’s announcement here

Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association response here (still pushing for licences to kill protected species, natch)

Scottish Land & Estates response here (still claiming wildlife crime ‘is in decline’, natch)

29 thoughts on “Environment Minister accepts recommendations by wildlife crime penalties review group”

  1. I like the raising of the maximum financial penalty (not high enough though, should go up to a cool million) but it is worthless without a high solid minimum as those on the bench will still hand out mates rates fines.

  2. This is a step forward, but we really won’t get anywhere until imprisonment becomes the norm for such offences. Fines can be paid by the employer, and the employee can still keep his/her retained house. But these ‘benefits’ are lost when the offender is imprisoned

      1. Is there a minimum jail sentence? To prevent the honourable members of the bench helping a chap’s chap out like a good chap should? Given the upper-middle class nature of the bench and its overlap with the grade of people who are generally the people behind the people who commit raptor crime, the sentencing cannot be left entirely in their hands. That is part of the reason sentences are such a joke.

  3. It is a start, however, if you see just how much some of these so called ‘sporting estates’ are getting as subsidies from the government, these fines are not enough ! you can look up your local estate here, http://farmsubsidy.openspending.org/GB/ So I agree that custodial sentencing is necessary. Whilst I applaud the effort to charge the absent owners vicariously, why are the estate factors not also liable ? after all, they ‘instruct’ the keepers, and are the interface between the owners and the keepers.

    Meanwhile all of Scotlands wildlife is being slaughtered, and we, the tax payer, are subsidising them ?

    1. It’s not necessarily the estate owner who is charged under the vicarious liability legislation. It may well be the estate factor, or the sporting agent, or the sporting manager, or A.N. Other, depending on the set-up at the estate in question.

      For example, in the most recent VL case the person convicted was the sporting agent, not the estate owner, because the agent leased the land for shooting and was directly responsible for the actions of the gamekeeper: https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2015/12/01/sporting-agent-on-cardross-estate-convicted-in-latest-vicarious-liability-case/

      For further background on vicarious liability see here: https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/vicarious-liability-whats-it-all-about/

  4. Come on guys. This is surely good news and a breakthrough? We have even learned that Aileen the Silent actually exists! It’s a start and a step in the right direction at last. I will refrain from making a comment on the fact that there have only been two VL sentences since 2012 though! Rome wasn’t built in a day.

  5. This is great news and long overdue. This review addresses the sentencing aspect. We now need to address the likelihood of being caught which means extending the powers of SSPCA. Sixty more people available to investigate wildlife crime has got to be a good thing. Come on Dr McLeod stop prevaricating and make another positive decision.
    Well done to Raptor Persecution for piling on the pressure.

  6. A positive step forward by the Scottish Government but will only be effective if wildlife crimes are properly investigated when they come to light and prosecutions made when evidence can be corroborated.

    There lies the main problem that has still to be faced, is how can we get the evidence under the present system where the ‘crimes’ are committed in rural countryside where the prospect of finding two ‘bobbies’ on the beat are probably nil.

    It is left to the interested walker or birdwatcher to be in such areas and be in a position to gather such evidence. He/she needs to have a buddie, knowledge of gathering evidence, camera etc and a due process of reporting what they have witnessed.

    Having a supportive SSPCA officer who could respond quickly would be a great help but there is no sign yet of them being given the ‘nod’ to be around to help out.

    I dream on!!

  7. Well done Scotland and Raptor Persecution.
    South of the Border we are still struggling to raise the importance of wildlife protection. Too many birds of prey are still being persecuted!

      1. NWCU. Have been hostile and refuse to joint work with SSPCA and other NGOs.
        This has had a negative effect on advancing wildlife crime investigation nationally

        Why would I want to support them,
        What have they done in the UK


  8. Evidence may either be lost or rendered inadmissible if not handled professionally from the time of discovery. Surely the availability of additional expert evidence gatherers, in the form of SSPCA officers, would be a big step forward in this respect.

  9. I’d become disillusioned with the poor efforts to reduce persecution against Scotland’s wildlife so this welcome news. However unless more resources are deployed to catch the criminals the killing will continue, especially on the intensively managed grouse moors where breeding raptors have been virtually wiped out. An effective deterrent requires custodial sentences which the judiciary need to apply. If the increased sentences are to have any effect the SSPCA should be given the powers to investigate raptor persecution because there’s no doubt that Police Scotland have been struggling with this.

  10. And also video evidence is an absolutely necessary tool to be used in the remote areas where these barbaric crimes are perpitrated.

  11. ”Where we would also like to see progress is people having equal access to legal mechanisms which can help them deal with species conflicts in a transparent way, thus helping prevent wildlife crime from happening.”


    From the SGA’s press release.

    And they are a member of PAW.

    You couldn’t make it up.

  12. It’s a step in the right direction, but like crypticmirror, I would like to see some form of minimum sentencing implemented.

    However, there will be some that consider this a retrograde step, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

    As for the issue of community service/payback that was mentioned in the recommendations, get the criminals to labour for the RSPB for a few weeks, providing any given reserve doesn’t hold any rare, scarce or threatened species – nothing would annoy these types more than having to help out the RSPB!

    Now, all we need is those additional powers being granted to the SSPCA, and for Police Scotland to up their game considerably – then we might just start to see some differences.

  13. Good news indeed but the reality reflects that of the Hunting Act in England and Wales.Illegal hunting continues unabated and in total contempt of the act, in the sure and certain confidence that police forces are not motivated to stop it. Even if we could impose custodial sentences, the Hunts would continue daily knowing that enforcement will never happen. If Scotland strengthened it’s own Hunting Act that would certainly support the case for strengthening ours, without which the Act is almost entirely useless.

  14. It is good news, but will reserve judgment until some keeper/owner/factor gets heavily fined or gets a heavy jail sentence. Maybe now that Dr McCloud has broken her silence, she should get video evidence allowed and bring in the SSPCA. So sorry I’m dreaming again, just thought that maybe she was on a roll and we could get things all sorted at once. Silly me, dreaming again.

  15. It is incumbent on all those who care for raptors and want to see them flying unmolested in the skies over Scotland to write to the Environment Minister at ministerforenvironment@scotland.gsi.gov.uk expressing how pleased they are with her decision to accept the recommendation of the Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group.

    Dr Aileen McLeod needs to realise just how many people are concerned about raptor persecution.

    You may also want to encourage Aileen “the Reticent” to be decisive and extend the powers of SSPCA and so transforming her into Aileen “the Magnificent”.

  16. These measures would not be necessary if the enforcement & sentencing of the present ones had been applied. No enforcement, no sentencing, means no deterrent. Furthermore fines no matter how high will not stop these crimes which are orchestrated on behalf of some well-heeled members of the establishment.

  17. I’m still waiting to here from Dr McLeod on the needed powers for the SSPCA and also what she intends doing to prevent further sick slaughters of Scotland’s iconic mountain hares. And yes when is she going to make yet another long, long overdue decision on beavers, which at the moment in Perthshire as allowed a shoot on sight mentality by cowboy landowners. One thing you can’t accuser her of is hitting the ground running.

  18. I read a report which stated the Government could not automatically withdraw a firearms certificate from an individual convicted of a wildlife offence such as raptor persecution as the power has not been dev eolved to Holyrood. The power lies with the Chief Constable of the area. One of the reasons for the withdrawal of a firearms certificate is ” That the holder is of intemperate habits or unsound mind or is otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with such a firearm” Now, from my point of view anyone who, as part of their duties, is employed to help prevent wildlife crime and who then goes on to personally commit a crime against wildlife, is, at the very least “otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with such a firearm”. As such the Chief Constable for that region should automatically invalidate that certificate. The suggestion that the power to withdraw the certificate lies only with Westminster appeara fallacious. Pressure should be brought to bear on Chief Constables to ensure that will be the case from now on.

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