A couple of weeks ago I attended the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club’s (SOC) virtual annual conference. One of the speakers I was keen to hear was PC Gavin Ross, an Investigative Support Officer at the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU).
Gavin is the ISO for Scotland and has been in post for a year (see here).
His presentation opened with an explanation of the differences between the NWCU and Police Scotland (essentially the NWCU is an intelligence gathering unit but it also has other functions, particularly supporting the police with wildlife crime investigations). He went on to describe the seven national wildlife crime priorities and the importance of partnership-working in tackling wildlife crime. In fact he mentioned the importance of partnership-working quite a few times and encouraged attendees to report anything suspicious as this information all helps to build an intelligence portfolio around certain areas and individuals.
The subject of raptor persecution was prominent in this presentation, as you might expect for an audience with the SOC.
We learned that this year alone there had been police enquiries into the death and /or disappearance of 14 eagles: 11 golden eagles and 3 white-tailed eagles. It was emphasised that as only a small proportion of eagles are tagged, this figure was likely the tip of a much larger iceberg.
Six of the 14 investigations related to satellite-tagged birds (whose tags had stopped suddenly without any indication of a technical malfunction, and are therefore considered suspicious).
Two of the 14 investigations are considered ‘historical’ in that they relate to the discovery of items (tags!) that had been cut off eagles and dumped in a river or a loch in previous years (e.g. see here and here for previous examples of this).
As these are ongoing investigations much of the detail was redacted from the presentation. That’s fair enough for a while, to protect the integrity of the investigations, but I hope Police Scotland will be publicising the circumstances of these incidents in due course.
Gavin also talked about what he called ‘Operation Stoop, aka Operation Tantallon’, which is the ongoing investigation into the theft and laundering of wild peregrines. This is a multi-agency operation involving the police, Scottish SPCA, NWCU and SASA, with additional support from members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group. So far three people have been charged, including a serving police officer (see here), but as it’s a live case many details are currently being withheld.
Gavin didn’t reveal any details but talked about the wide range of investigative techniques deployed so far, including surveillance, peregrine DNA analysis, searches under warrants, bankers warrants, cyber crime and the Proceeds of Crime Act.
I think the breadth of this investigation and the resources being thrown at it is testimony to the seriousness and extent of this particular crime, and from what I hear it’s certainly not just restricted to Scotland. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more in due course.
Overall this was an interesting and well-delivered presentation. I hope the NWCU will consider doing more of these and making them freely available on their website.