Information including the definition of wildlife crime, what our priorities are and what you can do to help.
On this page:
What are the Wildlife Crime Priorities in Scotland?
Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer
What to do if you witness wildlife crime
What is Wildlife Crime?
Wildlife Crime is any illegal act in Scotland affecting certain birds, animals, and plants including their habitats. It includes the illegal disturbance, destruction, theft, and sale of animals and plants both in the countryside and urban areas, and also the damage and destruction of 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.
Some examples of types of Wildlife Crime include:
- Damage to Sites of Special Scientific Interest
- The disturbance of sea mammals
- Illegal use of traps and snares
- Illegal cockle picking
- Removal of birds nests from the eves of houses at certain times of the year.
What are the Wildlife Crime Priorities in Scotland?
There are currently seven specific Wildlife Crime Priorities in Scotland and the UK.
1. Bat Crime
All bat species in the 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
- Architects, property developers, demolition companies, builders, and roofers
Licenses to conduct development or work where bats or roosts are present can be issued for specific purposes. For more information visit the NatureScot website.
2. Badger Persecution
Badgers and their setts are fully protected by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, and anyone who takes, kills or intentionally 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 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 maybe 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 NatureScot website.
3. Raptor (Birds of Prey) Persecution
All raptors are protected by law and intentionally killing or injuring a raptor 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.
Without a license to exterminate them, custodial sentences or fines can be given for the illegal killing of any wild bird, not just rare species.
4. Freshwater Pearl Mussels Persecution
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 a place that mussels use for shelter or protection. Shoddy or unauthorised river engineering, mini hydro-electric schemes or fishing operations can all result in changes to the river bed or bank that can lead to large scale killing or injuring.
5. 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 wildlife whose populations are threatened.
CITES currently regulates the trade in many thousands of species. The six 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.
Hare coursing is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Anyone 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 hunting is allowed if it is the right time of year (varies for species and sexes), during daylight and there is permission from the landowner.
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.
Fish 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.
7. Cyber Enabled Wildlife Crime
Cyber-crime is an ‘umbrella’ term for lots of different types of crimes which either take place online or where technology is a means and/or target for the attack. It is one of the fastest growing criminal activities across the world, and can affect both individuals and businesses. The adopted definitions of cybercrime are:
- Cyber Dependent Crimes, where a digital system is the target as well as the means of attack. These include attacks on computer systems to disrupt IT infrastructure, and stealing data over a network using malware.
- Cyber Enabled Crimes, ‘existing’ crimes that have been transformed in scale or form by their use of the internet. The growth of the internet has allowed these crimes to be carried out on an industrial scale.
- The use of the internet to facilitate drug dealing, people smuggling and many other ‘traditional’ crime types.
The National Wildlife Crime Unit contextualise wildlife crime across key thematic threat areas – focusing on the ways in which wildlife crime is perpetrated, rather than limiting it on a species by species basis. As a result, in 2018, cyber enabled wildlife crime became one of the areas of priority focus within the UK.
Cyber enabled wildlife crime ultimately allows criminality to continue or hinders the effective investigation or prosecution of offences. The use of the internet as an enabler in the facilitation of wildlife crime is manifest throughout many types of wildlife crime – from the on-line trade in illegal egg collections to the organisation of hare coursing competitions to the trade in endangered species.
The NWCU support police forces to investigate the illegal trade in endangered species and very few of these investigations are seen without a ‘cyber’ element. The use of on-line tools evidently enables the trade in endangered species to continue unabated.
There is a large UK market for exotic species and the trade takes many forms such as taxidermy, skulls, plants and bones as well as tusks, teeth, feathers, skins and claws. Much of the UK trade is conducted via on-line platforms and the opportunities to buy and sell over the internet has opened the trade to a global customer base.
The use of on-line sales platforms create a volume of legal trade amongst which illegal items can be sold. Traders can then establish a network of contacts through which further illegal trade can take place via personal messaging, all of which is, of course, hidden from researchers or investigators.
The UK’s National Wildlife Crime Unit are an integral part of the cyber enabled wildlife crime priority delivery group which has been working on a number of critical areas to increase our capacity to tackle cyber enabled wildlife crime
Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer
Although any officer can investigate wildlife crime, every Division in Police Scotland has a Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer and there is also a network of part-time Wildlife Crime Officers across the force.
These officers can be contacted to report a crime or to seek advice on wildlife crime matters. Call Police Scotland on 101 to report a wildlife crime or email us.
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 NatureScot.
However, if you require registration with Police Scotland to use snares, the details can be found on our page for Service Fees and Charges - Firearms.
You can learn more about what wildlife crime is and what the UK priorities are in relation to it 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.
What to do if you witness wildlife crime
If you suspect a wildlife crime is/has taken place
- Report any suspicious activity as soon as possible to Police Scotland on 101 or 999 if it is an emergency, and ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer if one is available
- Take note of the date, time, and weather conditions
- If possible, identify a map reference using the My Three Words app, 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 or person from 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 other 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.
If you’ve reported domestic abuse, rape or sexual crimes to us, we’d appreciate your feedback on the service we provided.
Policing Scotland has been working to make its websites more accessible - read our accessibility statement.
The official police resource for Scotland. Find advice and support for any situation you might be facing.