Yesterday the Scottish Rural Affairs & Environment Minister, Mairi Gougeon, gave evidence to the cross-party Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) committee which is currently considering Stage 1 of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.
We’ll come back to the wider evidence session in another blog because there were some interesting and important discussions but one point raised deserves an immediate reaction:
Possession of banned poisons.
Here’s the mini transcript:
ECCLR Committee Member Rachael Hamilton MSP: I will go back to the categorisation of wildlife offences and the different tiers of the penalty system. We heard evidence that perhaps possession of illegal pesticides should be categorised as a tier 1 offence, because they are currently illegal anyway. Do you have any comments on that point and do you have any plans to have an amnesty on illegal pesticides prior to the bill being passed? People should not possess illegal pesticides anyway, so using them in connection with animal crimes should attract the highest and severest category of penalty.
Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon: That has been the feeling behind that issue. As you said, possession of such pesticides is already illegal and there are offences in place to deal with that individual issue separately. Using such pesticides as part of another offence would attract the higher penalty. As they are already illegal and there are offences attached to them, using them in relation to any other offences could well attract severe penalties.
In relation to your amnesty point, I would be happy to consider looking at the matter.
Scottish Government Wildlife Management Team leader Leia Fitzgerald: Just to clarify, there was a previous amnesty, which was quite successful and resulted in a lot of pesticides being handed in. We could speak to stakeholders about whether that is something that could be done again. We would hope that we got all of what we needed after the last amnesty, but we can look at the matter.
Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon: I will happily get back to the committee and let you know how we get on with that.
Is the Scottish Government seriously considering yet another amnesty for banned poisons, which would be the third amnesty in the 15 years since it became an offence to even possess these deadly toxins, let alone use them? (The Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005).
The first amnesty took place in 2011 (see here), six years after the ban was first introduced. The second amnesty came four years later in 2015 (see here).
Since then poisoning crimes have certainly dropped in Scotland, probably thanks to the increase in satellite-tagged raptors, whose tags lead researchers to the poisoned corpses that would otherwise remain undetected, and also due to the introduction of vicarious liability legislation in 2012 which made it possible for landowners to be prosecuted for raptor persecution crimes committed by their gamekeeper employees. However, these poisoning crimes haven’t been totally eradicated and we’re still reading reports about illegally-poisoned birds (and some dogs) that have died after ingesting banned poisons in Scotland including some that were killed this year, and some even inside the Cairngorms National Park (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).
[An illegally-poisoned buzzard found on the boundary of a sporting estate in Perthshire. Contributed photo]
How many more chances is the Scottish Government planning on giving to these criminals? How many more get-out-of-jail-free cards will be dished out?
Why can’t the Scottish Government, 15 years on, implement a zero tolerance policy on this vile and primitive crime that not only risks the lives of wildlife and domestic animals but puts humans at risk as well? In the most recent criminal case, a Scottish gamekeeper was found with two cartons containing the banned poison Carbofuran. He was carrying one of these containers in his bum bag – presumably he wasn’t just taking the container out for company every day – and yet 180 schoolchildren were put at risk when they attended the grouse shooting estate on an officially-sanctioned school trip. Can you believe that? The gamekeeper was convicted for possession (along with a litany of other wildlife offences) and received a community payback order. No fine, no jail sentence, no deterrent whatsoever. Compare and contrast to how illegal poisoners are dealt with in Spain (see here, here and here).
The criminals who persist with such reckless activity in Scotland deserve a mandatory custodial sentence – there can be no more excuses, no more discussion and certainly no more amnesties.