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Publication - Report

Wildlife crime in Scotland: 2015 annual report

Published: 25 Nov 2016
Part of:
Environment and climate change, Law and order
ISBN:
9781786526199

The fourth wildlife crime annual report, this highlights new data from the financial year 2014 to 2015.

70 page PDF

2.4MB

70 page PDF

2.4MB

Contents
Wildlife crime in Scotland: 2015 annual report
2. Headline trends

70 page PDF

2.4MB

2. Headline trends

This chapter outlines the main trends in wildlife crime recorded by the police, reports of those charged by the police and processed by COPFS and levels of people proceeded against in court.

These sources are able to demonstrate trends in wildlife crime but much of the recording is not designed to pick out species specific information. Where possible, further detail is provided in Chapters 3 and 4.

2.1 Recorded Crime

Table 1 provides a summary of the different types of wildlife crime recorded by

the police over the five year period to 2014-15. These recorded crime statistics are Scottish Government statistical output derived from Police Scotland's recorded crime database.

In 2014-15 there were 284 crimes recorded by the police relating to wildlife. Recorded crimes relating to fish poaching offences accounted for around 36 per cent of the total in 2014-15 (101 crimes), followed by offences relating to birds (49 crimes).

The 284 recorded wildlife crimes represents a small increase of around 11 per cent in comparison with 2013-14 (255 recorded crimes). The main increases were recorded in the categories of cruelty to wild animals (73% increase) and other wildlife offences (52% increase).

Table 1: Wildlife Crime Recorded by Police Scotland, 2010-11 to 2014-15

Offences relating to:

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

Badgers

20

11

1

7

5

Birds

59

55

64

53

49

Cruelty to wild animals

40

26

27

22

38

Deer

33

47

33

20

24

Hunting with dogs

31

31

32

29

20

Poaching and game laws

16

15

1

4

2

Fish poaching

85

104

135

90

101

Conservation (protected sites)

2

1

0

1

1

Other wildlife offences

69

17

26

29

44

Totals

355

307

319

255

284

Source: Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2014-15

Table 2 presents the distribution of the types of wildlife crime between different Police Scotland divisions in 2014-15.

Table 2: Wildlife Crime Recorded, by Police Scotland Division, 2014-15

Offences relating to:

Aberdeen City

Aberdeenshire & Moray

Argyll & West Dunbartonshire

Ayrshire

Dumfries & Galloway

Edinburgh

Fife

Forth Valley

Greater Glasgow

Highland & Islands

Lanarkshire

Renfrewshire & Inverclyde

Tayside

The Lothians & Scottish Borders

TOTAL

Badgers

0

0

0

0

1

0

2

1

0

0

0

0

0

1

5

Birds

2

10

1

1

5

0

5

9

0

12

0

0

2

2

49

Cruelty to wild animals

0

4

12

2

1

0

1

4

0

5

3

0

2

4

38

Deer

0

4

1

0

0

0

2

0

1

6

5

0

0

5

24

Hunting with dogs

0

9

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

0

0

0

5

4

20

Poaching and game laws

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

Fish poaching

1

16

3

1

3

2

4

21

1

31

0

1

1

16

101

Conservation (protected sites)

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

1

Other wildlife offences

1

2

2

0

4

0

12

6

0

7

0

0

10

0

44

Totals

4

45

19

4

14

2

28

43

3

61

8

1

20

32

284

Source: Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2014-15

The highest number of wildlife crime offences were recorded in the Highlands & Islands region (61), followed by Aberdeenshire & Moray (45) and Forth Valley (43). Overall the greatest volume of poaching offenses were in relation to birds (49) and fish (101).

2.2 Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Statistics

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service's ( COPFS) dedicated Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit ( WECU) has been in operation since 15 August 2011 and investigates and manages the prosecution of all cases involving crimes against wildlife.

Case work of the Wildlife & Environmental Crime Unit in 2014-15

Table 3 shows the breakdown of wildlife cases received by COPFS in each of the financial years 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15, following the standard categories used elsewhere in this report. Notes and Definitions on the COPFS data are available in Appendix 3.

Table 3: Wildlife Cases received by COPFS in 2012-13 to 2014-15

Offences relating to:

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

Badgers

3 (3)

4 (1)

Birds

20 (3)

21 (6)

17 (2)

Cruelty to wild animals

7 (4)

10 (3)

11 (4)

Deer

8

4

5

Fish poaching

55 (3)

60 (2)

38

Hunting with dogs

9

13 (1)

6

Other wildlife offences

23 (2)

17 (1)

17

Other conservation offences

1

Total

126 (15)

125 (13)

98 (7)

Source: Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

The figures in brackets in Table 3 indicate the number of reports submitted by a specialist reporting agency, in the case of fish poaching offences, by the River Tweed Commissioners [1] and in the remaining categories, by the Scottish SSPCA.

The outcomes of these cases are shown in Table 4 below.

Table 4: Outcomes of all wildlife cases reported to COPFS in 2012-13 to 2014-15

2012-2013

2013-14

2014-2015

Under investigation

1

1

No action

35 (4)

29 (2)

23 (1)

Alternative to prosecution

30 (2)

30 (4)

34

Prosecuted

61 (9)

65 (7)

40 [2] (6)

of which convicted

44 (5)

47 (4)

28 (4)

Total number of reports received

126 (15)

125 (13)

98 (7)

Source: Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

The following information relates to cases reported in 2014-15.

Prosecution in court was undertaken in 40 cases (41% of cases received). Of these:

  • One case remains live.
  • 28 cases resulted in a conviction (70% of cases prosecuted).
  • Proceedings were discontinued by the prosecutor in 5 cases (12% of cases prosecuted) where for example, further investigation disclosed that no crime was committed or that there was insufficient evidence.

6 cases resulted in an acquittal of all charges (15% of cases prosecuted)

  • 34 cases were dealt with by an alternative to prosecution (35% of cases received.) Warning letters were issued in 10 of these cases (10% of cases received) and fiscal fines were issued in a further 21 cases (21% of cases received).
  • 2 cases were referred to the Reporter to the Childrens' Panel and one was dealt with by way of diversion from prosecution. Diversion from prosecution may be appropriate for less serious offences where it may prevent or deter further offending. It involves the referral of an accused person to the supervision of a social worker, psychiatrist, psychologist or mediator for the purposes of support, treatment or other action as an alternative to prosecution.

No action was taken in 23 cases (23% of cases received). In 22 cases, this was for legal reasons and in 1 case was in the exercise of the prosecutor's discretion. The legal reasons included:

  • circumstances that did not constitute a crime
  • instances where the person responsible was not identified
  • instances where there was insufficient evidence to permit proceedings
  • instances where proceedings were time-barred at the time of submission of the report or the delay in reporting was such that proceedings were no longer justified in the particular circumstances.

Further information about cases received in 2014-15 is as follows:

  • A total of 21 reports related to birds. 9 of these related to offences involving birds of prey, 2 being prosecutions for vicarious liability offences.
  • A total of 6 reports related to circumstances in which badgers were affected. Further information is provided in the supplementary note to Appendix 3A.
  • 7 reports related to the use of traps.
  • 7 reports related to the use of snares.
  • 14 cases involved dogs.
  • All 6 cases in the "Hunting with dogs" category related to allegations of hare coursing. A case reported in 2014-15 in which the accused released a fox to dogs was reported and prosecuted under animal welfare legislation.
  • 14 cases involved firearms. 5 of these were air rifles, in each case used to shoot gulls.
  • 15 cases involved activity targeting hares or rabbits.
  • "Other wildlife offences" included the possession of prohibited pesticides (2 cases), vicarious liability (2 cases), COTES offences (1 case) and offences against bats (1 case).

Further details of case outcomes in the individual categories are provided in Appendix 3A.

Notable Cases

The first case under the vicarious liability provisions in section 18A of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was reported in 2013 and was concluded in December 2014 when the landowner, Ninian Stewart, was convicted and fined £675 after his gamekeeper Peter Bell poisoned a buzzard.

Two reports of vicarious liability offences were submitted in the financial year 2014-15. One prosecution is ongoing. In the other, Graham Christie, a self-employed game farmer, was fined a total of £3,200 in December 2015 after admitting his liability for the trapping and injuring of a buzzard in March 2013 using an illegal gin trap, by James O'Reilly, a gamekeeper employed by him.

In August 2015, following a proof in mitigation, the salmon netting company Usan Salmon Fisheries Limited was fined a total of £7,000 after pleading guilty to charges of failing to observe the weekly close time in 2013 and 2014.

In January 2015, Peter Lockhart was fined £2,000 and disqualified from owning or keeping animals for five years for offences under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 committed at Fife Animal Park in 2013 and 2014.

2.3 Criminal Proceedings statistics

Following marking by COPFS, cases may be dealt with by the courts. Table 4 shows the number of people proceeded against in Scottish courts and the relevant conviction rates for wildlife offences between 2010-11 and 2014-15. Please note that this table is a summary and that a breakdown of proceedings for specific offences is provided at Appendix 4.

Please note that Criminal Proceedings statistics are not directly comparable with the recorded crime or COPFS figures presented above for a number of reasons. Please see Section 2.4 for further explanation.

There were 51 people proceeded against for wildlife related offences in 2014-15, a 36 per cent decrease from 2013-14 (80 people). The largest decrease was in proceedings relating to fish poaching offences, however this remains the most common type of wildlife offence seen in the courts.

Table 5: People proceeded against in Scottish Courts for Wildlife Crimes*, 2010-11 to 2014-15

Offences relating to:

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

Total proceedings over 5 year period

Overall conviction rate

Badgers

3

2

-

-

2

7

86%

Birds

6

15

19

10

8

58

78%

Cruelty to wild animals

2

4

9

4

3

22

73%

Deer

3

8

3

5

2

21

67%

Hunting with dogs

9

5

11

9

3

37

46%

Poaching and game laws

8

8

1

-

-

17

59%

Fish poaching

22

18

23

43

19

125

75%

Conservation (protected sites)

-

1

-

-

-

1

100%

Other wildlife offences

-

10

11

9

14

44

75%

Total proceeded against

53

71

77

80

51

332

71%

Total guilty

37

48

56

60

35

% guilty

70%

68%

73%

75%

69%

Total number of offences

49

70

75

100

66

Source: Criminal Proceedings Statistics

* Where main charge

Table 4 also shows there were small variations in the overall conviction rate over the last five years, ranging from between 68 per cent to 75 per cent of those proceeded against found guilty. Conviction rates by wildlife crime category have been presented as a five year average due to the small numbers of proceedings for some categories. This shows that conviction rates, on average over the last five years, have been higher for offences relating to badgers and birds while offences involving hunting with dogs have had the lowest conviction rate.

Although a single court proceeding can involve a number of different offences, it should be noted that Criminal Proceedings statistics only report on the main charge. For example, if a shotgun offence receives a higher penalty than a wildlife offence in the same proceeding, the shotgun offence would be counted, not the wildlife offence. To illustrate this, the total number of individual wildlife offences proceedings against in each year are presented at the bottom of
Table 5. In 2014-15 there were 66 offences for wildlife crime that were brought to court in comparison to the 51 people proceeded against.

Tables 5 and 6 present information on penalties issued for wildlife crime convictions and have been presented as aggregate figures due to the small numbers of proceedings for some crime categories in individual years. Please note that a more detailed breakdown is available at Appendix 4.

Table 5 shows that the most common punishment for a wildlife crime conviction is a monetary fine, with 80 per cent of convictions receiving this type of penalty in 2014-15 up from 2013-14, however this pattern has been broadly similar since 2010-11.

Table 6: People with a charge* proved for Wildlife Crimes in Scottish Courts, by main penalty, 2009-10 to 2013-14

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

People proceeded against

53

71

77

80

51

People with a charge proved

37

48

56

60

35

Of which received

Custody

-

1

1

1

1

Community Sentence

-

7

8

4

2

Monetary

33

37

33

43

28

Other

4

3

14

12

4

Source: Criminal Proceedings Statistics

* Where main charge

In Table 6 aggregate totals for 2010-11 to 2014-15 show that monetary punishments are mostly likely to be given for all crime types, especially for fish poaching offences (81% for this group). The crime group where convictions are most likely to result in a community sentence are offences relating to badgers (33% of convictions). Only 2 per cent of wildlife crime convictions resulted in a custodial sentence.

Average fines and custodial sentences are also presented in Table 6. It is not possible to establish the average number of Community Payback Order ( CPO) hours as this information is not held in the Criminal Proceedings database nor is it available for other types of crime.

Table 7: People with a charge* proved for Wildlife Crimes in Scottish Courts, by main penalty and wildlife crime

2010-11 to 2014-15 totals

Average

Offences relating to:

Total with a charge proved

Custody

Community Sentence

Monetary

Other

Custodial sentence length (days)

Monetary fine (£)

Badgers

6

-

2

4

-

-

967

Birds

45

3

6

30

6

132

598

Cruelty to wild animals

16

-

2

12

2

-

390

Deer

14

-

3

10

1

-

535

Hunting with dogs

17

1

2

11

3

182

416

Poaching and game laws

10

-

-

6

4

-

260

Fish poaching

94

-

2

76

16

-

253

Conservation (protected sites)

1

-

-

1

-

-

740

Other wildlife offences

33

-

4

24

5

-

515

Totals

236

4

21

174

37

144

411

Source: Criminal Proceedings Statistics

* Where main charge

Some additional or alternative penalties are described in sections 3.3 and 3.4.

2.4 Comparing Data Sources

Although the justice IT systems have common standards in terms of classifying crimes and penalties there are issues with comparing the different sets of statistics (Tables 1 to 6) so care should be taken when interpreting the report. The following outline the main differences:

1. Prosecutions may not happen in the same year as a crime was recorded. Timing is also an issue when comparing COPFS figures (which include on-going cases) and criminal proceedings statistics (which represent only closed cases).

2. In the recorded crime statistics a single crime or offence recorded by the police may have more than one perpetrator. By comparison the court statistics measure individuals who are proceeded against, which may be for more than one crime. As outlined above only the main charge in a proceeding is presented for criminal proceeding statistics.

3. There is the possibility that the crime or offence recorded by the police may be altered e.g. COPFS may alter the charges during their marking process, making it hard to track crimes through the justice system.

4. Additionally, crimes and offences alleged to have been committed by children less than 16 years old are not included in the criminal proceedings statistics as these are representative of activity in the adult courts. Juveniles are generally dealt with through the children's hearings system.

Limitations of using these data sources to measure wildlife crime

Previous reports have laid out the limitations of the data included in the report and the difficulties which occur when trying to compare the data. Efforts have been made and recommendations have been taken on board, to make improvements as the annual report has been developed, improved and refined.

Further comment on recommendations made by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee can be found in Appendix 2.


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