Special Constables pilot scheme in Cairngorms National Park a waste of time & money

Two and a half years ago, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a pilot scheme whereby Police Special Constables would be deployed in the Cairngorms National Park to tackle wildlife crime.

This initiative was one of a number of measures announced in May 2017 in response to the findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review which showed clear evidence of deliberate and sustained illegal raptor persecution, particularly on some driven grouse moors in and around the Cairngorms National Park (CNP).

This RPUK map shows the last known location of satellite-tagged golden eagles that were either found illegally killed or had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in and around the CNP (data from the golden eagle satellite tag review):

Golden eagles are not the only victims of wildlife crime in and around the CNP. This RPUK map below, based mostly on RSPB data, shows raptor persecution incidents between 2005-2016. Only one of these (just outside the CNP boundary on Kildrummy Estate) has resulted in a successful prosecution. With such clear evidence of wildlife crime it’s easy to see why the CNP was chosen as the first location for this pilot scheme.

This pilot scheme was the Government’s alternative to extending the powers of the SSPCA to allow it to investigate a wider suite of wildlife crime (including raptor persecution) – a decision made after six years of Governmental deliberation under five different Environment Ministers.

It also emerged in 2018 that this pilot scheme was an alternative to the Government’s 2016 manifesto pledge to establish a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit as part of Police Scotland – a pledge on which it has now reneged (see here).

The idea was that the police special constable scheme could be rolled out across Scotland “if judged to be successful” in the CNP, but we weren’t told the criteria that would be used to judge this ‘success’.

The scheme was formally launched in March 2018 (see here) and nothing more was heard of it.

Just over a year later in April 2019 we asked the Cairngorms National Park Authority the following questions about the scheme:

Here’s the response:

So basically after a year of operation, one of the main project partners couldn’t tell us anything about the scheme.

Fast forward six months to November 2019 and Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell thought it was time more questions were asked. Here are his two Parliamentary questions and Roseanna Cunningham’s answers:

S5W-26349 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government how much funding (a) it and (b) the Cairngorms National Park Authority allocated each year to the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

Roseanna Cunningham: The Scottish Government agreed to contribute £18,000 and the Cairngorms National Park Authority agreed to provide £10,000 for the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project.

S5W-26346 Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Scottish Green Party): To ask the Scottish Government what the outcome was of the Wildlife Special Constables pilot project; how many constables participated each month in this, and how many suspected crimes they reported, also broken down by how many led to subsequent (a) arrests, (b) charges, (c) prosecutions and (d) convictions.

Roseanna Cunningham: a)The Scottish Government is currently undertaking an evaluation of the Special Constable Pilot Project in conjunction with Police Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. We will announce a decision on the future direction of the project in due course.

b) There were five special constables in the project, employed on a part-time basis.

c) and d) From the information gathered in the review conducted by Police Scotland, there were no recorded crimes reported by the Special Constables during their patrols in the 12 month trial period. However, Special Constables were involved in meeting stakeholders and partners operating within the Cairngorms National Park to build relationships and understand the needs and demands of National Park users which will aid future intelligence gathering.

Gosh, it’s easy to see why the Scottish Government’s evaluation of the pilot scheme is taking so long, what with having to count ZERO reported wildlife crimes.

Meanwhile satellite tagged raptors continue to disappear in suspicious circumstances in the Cairngorms National Park (white-tailed eagle here; hen harrier here; hen harrier here and hen harrier here); birds are still being illegally poisoned in the Cairngorms National Park (here) and birds of prey are still being caught by illegally-set traps in the Cairngorms National Park (golden eagle here).

But it’s ok, nothing to worry about because £28K has just been spent on ‘building relationships and understanding the needs and demands of National Park users’.


15 thoughts on “Special Constables pilot scheme in Cairngorms National Park a waste of time & money”

  1. Well, well what a surprise !
    Having personal experience of just how close the gamekeepers and special constables are, even by marriage, the idea that the SC’s would achieve anything was farcical.
    Even if the plan had been workable, which it wasn’t, it was always an attempt to avoid real powers being delegated in a way that would bring results.
    A pointless sideshow.

    Keep up the pressure !

  2. It seems quite pointless developing or supporting schemes like this around any driven grouse moors. History instructs us that nothing comes of schemes where grouse moors and authority lure others to participate in are simply run into the long grass after officials and grouse moors management have extracted as much information as possible from the conservationists. It simply gives them cover for doing nothing and fodder to dress up their motivations in a publicly acceptable form which come in the form of press releases.
    How long will this dysfunctional marriage of the Scottish Government and SNH be allowed to continue deceiving the people? Their actions are designed solely to fool the public that steps are being taken while they enjoy the hegemony that such sycophancy brings them?
    Think I am mistaken … then look at the situation with beavers, snares, ravens and their refusal to allow a genuinely independent body in the SSPCA to investigate wildlife crime.
    Anyone seen Dominic Cummings in the area?

    1. Spot on George, when the beaver was given legal protection on May the 1st there had already been workshops in advance for those wanting to get licences to control them! It was a PR exercise. So you can apply to kill one, but there is a blanket ban on translocating any to new territories in Scotland including places like the Insh Marshes where they’d help conservation efforts that includes aiding the curlew. Not good news if you want to reduce flooding in Scotland either – it’s actually far easier to send beavers to England for new anti flooding trials there. This is obscene, just as much as the Strathbraan raven ‘cull’ was, and there will be other examples as time goes on.

      1. yup and then the ‘establishment’ (including RSPB) manages to give her a Nature of Scotland award for beaver conservation !

  3. So pleased that at least we have RPUK turning over the stones to see what’s beneath them. Was there a vetting procedure to ensure those with close links to certain people wouldn’t get in post? I suspect Sennen’s right on the ball and all the SC pilot has done is provide some very substantial beer money for cheery nights out by the Tweed enclave. The SSPCA REALLY need to be given more powers to investigate what’s going on on sporting estates.

  4. Agree with above comments re-SSPCA taking over the lead role on wildlife investigations – I would also say that what might sound reasonable in other circumstances – use locally connected people to put over your message – wont work against a historical, deeply entrenched set of [now] criminal practices which is reinforced by the many cultural links between local communities and the landowners/estates….stay outside that archaic system if you want to be effective or it will suck you in, every time.

  5. The Sc. Gov. seems to be determined to thwart any move to extend the powers of the SSPCA. Their “Special” Constable scheme was at best embroidery and a fog to obscure what is actually required, i.e. EFFECTIVE specialised civil policing / SSPCA supported by appropriate legislation and a court process that speedily deals with the criminals.

    One has to wonder what is actually going on in Holyrood. Their performance in tacking longstanding wildlife crime lacks vitality and conviction. Not exactly the epitome of good government.

    A few days ago Professor Susan Deacon resigned as chairwoman of Scotland’s police watchdog, saying the system is “fundamentally flawed”. She was the third person to occupy the chair since 2013.

    She said, “In truth, however, I have increasingly become convinced that the governance and accountability arrangements for policing in Scotland are fundamentally flawed, in structure, culture and practice, and I conclude that there is little more I can do to make these arrangements work effectively,” she said.

    “I would suggest that the Scottish government thinks afresh about how the police service is scrutinised and held to account and how, or if, a better separation between politics and policing, and indeed between the police service and those who oversee it, can be achieved.”

    “FUNDAMENTALLY FLAWED, in structure, culture and practice,” ………. That is about as bad as it gets !

  6. I’m not convinced that anyone who lives in the Glen is going to be able to act independently of all the other people in the Glen. Many of whom will be employed by the estates. I assume the Specials are unpaid, as those near me are, so they will need another source of income. Which, one assumes, may be from working in the Glen.

    I can’t see it being effective.

  7. We used to laugh at Faulty Towers on the television but now we have our own live version in the Cairngorms National Park.

    How on earth does the government think that they can get away with this pathetic state of affairs. Thankfully we have RPS to expose the farce that this has become.

    Thousands of pounds just thrown away for no effect on the problem of raptor persecution.

  8. Well, ever felt as though you were being ‘fobbed off’? That government seem to be experts at doing it. Will this report follow the Werrity report down the worm-hole ?

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