What is Wildlife Crime?
Wildlife Crime is any act that is made illegal in Scotland under legislation with regard to certain birds, animals and plants including their habitats, both on land and at sea.
It includes the illegal disturbance, destruction, theft and sale of animals and plants both in the countryside and urban areas, and includes the destruction of and damage to protected habitats. Wildlife Crime poses significant harm to the species targeted by the criminals, as well as the communities who rely on wildlife for employment and tourism.
Wildlife Crime covers a huge spectrum of criminal activity from damage to Sites of Special Scientific Interest to the disturbance of cetaceans; from the illegal use of traps and snares to illegal taxidermy; and from illegal cockle picking to the removal of birds nests from the eves of houses at certain times of year.
What are the Wildlife Crime Priorities in Scotland?
There are currently six specific Wildlife Crime Priorities in Scotland and in the UK:
ALL Bat species in UK (and their roosts) are legally protected, by both domestic and international legislation. It is illegal to kill, injure, harass or disturb bats or damage their roosting place, whether this is deliberate, reckless or even done through a lack of awareness. It is also an offence to possess, sell or advertise a bat or any part of a bat.
Who needs to take particular note of the legislation?
- Property owners/householders who have a bat roost in their property,
- Woodland owners, agriculturists and foresters,
- Pest controllers,
- Planning officers and building surveyors,
- Architect, property developers, demolition companies, builders and roofers.
Licenses to permit illegal activities relating to bats and their roosts can be issued for specific purposes. For more information visit the Scottish Natural Heritage website.
Badgers and their setts are fully protected by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, and anyone who takes, kills or injures a badger, or who interferes with a badger sett, can be sent to prison or fined. Snaring, poisoning and the activities of badger baiters are illegal, meaning that any activity which causes harm to a badger is outlawed.
Badger baiting is extremely cruel and the badgers suffer severe injuries before they are killed. Badger diggers use dogs and digging equipment to take badgers from their setts and these dogs are often badly injured as well.
If you see anyone with digging equipment and dogs in an area where badgers do live, don’t approach them but take a note of the registration numbers and call the police straightaway.
Badgers are also victims of other forms of illegal persecution including instances of disturbance, damage and destruction of setts.
This is likely to be as a result of badger digging or badger baiting for sport, but may be by someone damaging the sett or trying to get rid of the badgers as their presence is inconvenient. The latter can include badgers being killed for game management, farming or development
Licences can be granted for certain purposes which may otherwise be illegal. For more information visit the Scottish Natural Heritage website.
Birds of Prey (Raptor) persecution
All raptors are protected by law and to intentionally kill or injury a wild bird is an offence, including shooting, trapping, poisoning or interfering with their nest site.
Wild birds, including their eggs, nests and chicks, are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Whilst common birds are protected under law, offences against rare species are arrestable and can result in custodial sentence or fines.
Freshwater Pearl Mussels
Freshwater Pearl Mussels are an endangered species found in rivers in the north of Scotland, the last stronghold of them in the world.
The penalties for this crime can be severe. For every Fresh Water Pearl Mussel killed, taken or injured, a fine not exceeding £5,000 or 6 months in custody may apply. The crime is most likely to occur in low water during the summer months on rivers in the north with good pedestrian and vehicle access.
It is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy a place which mussels use for shelter or protection. Shoddy or unauthorised river engineering, mini hydro-electric schemes or fishing proprietors can all result in alterations to the river bed or bank that can lead to large scale killing or injuring
CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) issues
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulates the legal trade in species of birds, animals and plants whose wild populations are threatened.
CITES currently regulates the trade in 30,000 species. The 6 current priorities are the illegal trade in:
- medicinal & health products (including rhino horn),
- sturgeon derivatives & extracts,
The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations creates offences and allows CITES legislation to be enforced in the UK.
Poaching and coursing
Hare coursing is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The persons involved in this activity will usually use lurchers, greyhounds and whippet dogs to chase the hares, but the motive is rarely to take the hare but to treat it as a sport.
It is predominantly a seasonal crime occurring during the Spring as crops emerge into fields and during late Summer and early Autumn when the crops have been harvested. However it can occur at any time of the year.
Deer poaching is also illegal under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996, meaning it is a crime to wilfully kill or injure deer.
It is a crime that is usually committed during the night and poachers often trespass on private land to get to the deer. Apart from the cruelty inflicted on the animals hunted there is also a question of food preparation hygiene when animals are taken for human consumption.
Salmon poaching is illegal under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003. The activity is usually done for commercial purposes.
Other offences under the Act tend to be committed by individuals or small groups who wish to fish for free, or catch coarse fish for their own consumption.
The only legal methods of fishing for salmon and freshwater fish likely to be encountered in Scotland are the use of rod and line and a small number of legitimate netting stations.
Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer
Although any officer can investigate wildlife crime, every Division in Police Scotland has a Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer and there are also a network of part time Wildlife Crime Officers across the force.
These officers can be contacted to report crime or to seek advice on wildlife crime matters. Call Police Scotland on 101 to report a wildlife crime or email us at Contactus@scotland.pnn.police.uk
The Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer for your Division can also offer assistance with obtaining a unique identification number required for a tag or sign placed on any trap operated under the General Licence provisions authorised by Scottish Natural Heritage.
However, if you require to register with Police Scotland to use snares the details can be found by clicking on the following link: Service Fees and Charges - Firearms.
You can learn more about what wildlife crime is and what the UK priorities are in relation to wildlife crime on the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit website.
In order to achieve our aim we work closely with a wide range of other agencies who have an interest in the protection of wildlife and the environment.
Police Scotland is a member of the Partnership for Action against Wildlife crime (PAW) which brings together law enforcement, land managers, conservationists and the Scottish Government: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/Wildlife-Habitats/paw-scotland.
What to do if you witness wildlife crime
If you suspect a wildlife crime is/has taken place you should:
- Report any suspicious activity as soon as possible to Police Scotland on 101 or 999 and ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer if one is available.
- Take a note of the date, time and weather conditions.
- If possible, identify a map reference or ideally a GPS reading of both the incident scene and location from where you witnessed the incident.
- Note a description of person/s involved including gender, age, height, clothing etc.
- Write down any vehicle registration numbers, make, model, and colour that may be involved.
- Identify other witnesses and obtain their name and contact details.
- If possible, video or photograph the scene, or make a rough sketch.
- Cover up any suspected poisoned baits or victims to prevent any animal / person coming into contact with them.
- Do report. Even if you are not sure - report the incident. The evidence of wildlife crime is not always obvious.
- Do not disturb the scene by moving items or walking about unnecessarily.
- Do not touch dead animals or birds, especially if you suspect that poison may have been used.
- Do not interfere with legal countryside practices such as the legal use of traps and snares, hides, high seats and shooting butts.
- Never approach suspects or intervene if you suspect someone is committing a wildlife crime – you may put yourself in danger.
Crime against animals
Wildlife Crime is not about:
- Domestic animals,
- Stray dogs,
- Dangerous dogs,
- Licensing of dangerous wild animals (contact your local authority),
- Injured domestic birds or animals (you can contact the SSPCA for more information).
However, crimes against these animals are still taken very seriously and you should get in touch with Police Scotland if you come across such crime.