Many thanks to Brinkwire for picking up on the recent blog post (here) about the Scottish Government’s failure to appoint a taskforce to consider additional powers for the Scottish SPCA.
The following article was published yesterday, with quotes from Mark Ruskell MSP, Environment Minister Ben Macpherson and the SSPCA’s Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn:
SNP ministers have been accused of years of delay over plans to hand more powers to the Scottish SPCA to allow it to better investigate wildlife crime, including the illegal killing of birds of prey.
It came as it emerged a new task force expected to be set up last summer has yet to be established.
Campaigners said the issue has been “kicked into the long grass more times than is credible”, with increased powers first suggested a decade ago.
Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell argues wildlife crime is rife, the police are overstretched and the role of the SSPCA needs to be extended.
This would allow the animal charity to investigate a greater number of suspected wildlife crimes, such as those where animals have been killed.
Mr Ruskell proposed further powers for the SSPCA as part of last year’s Animals and Wildlife Bill.
But the Scottish Government instead committed to setting up an independently-chaired task force to consider the matter.
In June, Mairi Gougeon, who was then the SNP rural affairs ministers, said she expected this task force “to convene later in the summer and that they will be in a position to conclude their review and submit a report of their recommendations before the end of the current parliamentary session” in May this year.
She said that timeline “may be subject to change” due to the coronavirus crisis and preparations for Brexit.
Ben Macpherson, the current rural affairs minister, has now confirmed the task force has been delayed.
In a written answer to Mr Ruskell, he said: “We now expect the task force to be established later this year and will provide further details in due course.”
Mr Ruskell, his party’s environment spokesman, said: “Giving the SSPCA powers to investigate wildlife crime and act on the brutal killing of raptors seems a no brainer, but the Scottish Government seems unwilling to even set up a task force to discuss it.
“I note the Scottish Government delayed this task force meeting because of Covid but allowed grouse shooting to continue, even when the rest of us were told to stay at home.
“This idea was first floated a decade ago. There is nothing left to discuss.
“It is completely unacceptable for minister after minister to continue to kick this can down the road when Scotland’s reputation is being trashed by the brutal killing of wildlife.
“It raises serious questions about the SNP’s commitment to tackling wildlife crime during a nature emergency.”
Dr Ruth Tingay, author of the Raptor Persecution UK blog, said increased powers for the SSPCA were first suggested in February 2011.
Her blog details the “extraordinary” timeline of delays that have occurred since then, with the issue “kicked into the long grass more times than is credible”.
Ms Tingay, who also runs the not-for-profit Wild Justice with television presenter Chris Packham and environmental campaigner Dr Mark Avery, told The : “Ten years and seven environment ministers later and we’re still no closer to letting highly experienced SSPCA investigators help the police tackle ongoing illegal raptor persecution. You have to ask why that might be.”
Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn of the SSPCA said it “welcomes the minister’s commitment to establishing this task force in 2021”.
He said: “We already work very closely with Police Scotland and other agencies to protect wild animals from cruelty.
“We have the skills and expertise to assist and investigate wildlife crime.
“The extension of these powers would put this expertise to use and allow us to provide even more support to our partners and reduce pressure on their resources.
“As Scotland’s animal welfare charity we believe we can do more to protect Scotland’s wildlife.”
Mr Macpherson said tackling wildlife crime has been a “long-standing priority for the Scottish Government”.
He said: “While we had initially anticipated the task force would be convened in summer 2020 this has not been possible because of the need to focus on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – a health crisis which has created an economic crisis – and preparations for EU exit. We now expect the task force to be established later this year.”