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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
3. Additional Data Sources

70 page PDF

2.4MB

3. Additional Data Sources

Chapters 3 and 4 include commentary and data provided by other bodies involved in the investigation of wildlife crime in Scotland including government departments, agencies and NGOs. The data provides additional detail on incidents or investigative work to complement the data presented in Chapter 2 and to help fill in gaps where disaggregation of that data is not possible.

Some of these data sources include incidents that stakeholders have been notified of or detected using their specific expertise. It is possible that, if reported to the police, some of these incidents would not have been recorded as a crime, or would have been recorded as environmental offences or firearms/shotgun offences depending on the nature of the crime.

3.1 Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture ( SASA)

Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture ( SASA) is a Scottish Government department based in Edinburgh, which as part of its remit, provides several services for wildlife crime investigation.

Wildlife DNA Forensic Unit

The Wildlife DNA Forensic Unit at SASA provides analysis of non-human DNA evidence recovered by wildlife crime investigations. Table 7 provides a summary of the range of Scottish casework received in the financial years 2013-14 to 2014-15, divided into the UK wildlife crime priorities.

Table 8: Wildlife DNA Forensic unit cases from Scotland, 2013-14 to 2014-15

Category

Scottish cases

2013-14

2014-15

Badger persecution

4

1

Bat persecution

0

0

CITES

1

0

Freshwater pearl mussels

0

0

Poaching and coursing

6

1

Raptor persecution

4

10

Other wildlife crime

2

0

Other (e.g. animal cruelty)

1

2

Total

18

14

Source: SASA

The 2014-15 casework included the identification of bait species from several raptor poisoning investigations and the identification of buzzard feathers on a rock used in a raptor crime. DNA evidence produced from all of these cases has provided investigative leads, and can play a crucial role in advancing an investigation towards prosecution.

Pesticides Branch

The Pesticides Branch at SASA investigates suspected animal poisoning incidents, as part of the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme. Table 8 provides details of suspected pesticide incidents investigated in Scotland (2010-11 to 2014-15) and summarises those incidents, categorised as abuse, that are considered to be wildlife crimes because of the species or pesticide involved. Annually, the branch investigates around 170-230 incidents. The incidence of confirmed pesticide abuse has declined substantially from 34 per year in 2010-11 to 9 in 2014-15.

Table 8 also includes the numbers of abuse incidents involving suspicious baits or other substances, even if no creature was actually poisoned. It is not possible to identify the target species. The figures show that where victim species are identified, the most frequently recorded incidents are those involving birds of prey, with 46 incidents making up more than half (55%) of abuse incidents over the 5 year period. Bird of prey poisoning incidents are covered further in the Raptor Persecution section of this report.

While the poisoning of a companion animal (pet) is not a wildlife crime, these incidents are included here as the companion animal may have been the accidental victim of an illegal poison intended to target wildlife, while wildlife could also be put at risk by poisons placed to target pets.

Table 9: Pesticide incidents in Scotland 2010-11 to 2014-15

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

Number of incidents investigated during financial year *

203

234

172

194

192

Number of incidents attributed to pesticides

49

20

22

18

16

Category - Abuse

34

14

14

13

9

% abuse

17

6

8

7

5

No. of abuse incidents involving birds of prey

24

6

4

6

6

No. of abuse incidents involving other birds **

1

2

1

2

0

No. of abuse incidents involving suspicious baits/substances

8

2

5

4

1

No. of abuse incidents involving companion animals

0

4

4

1

2

No. of abuse incidents involving wild mammals

1

0

0

0

0

Source: SASA

* Excludes honeybees and incidents where no analyses were undertaken

** No birds of prey associated with these incidents

Abuse: An investigation into the circumstances of the case concluded that the pesticide(s) involved had been used in breach of their authorisation conditions and that this has been done with the deliberate intent of harming or attempting to harm wildlife or other animals. Where an animal is involved the cause of death has been established as pesticide poisoning.

3.2 SAC Consulting Veterinary Services

SAC Consulting: Veterinary Services ( SAC C VS) is a division of Scotland's Rural College ( SRUC). While not a government agency, the work of their Veterinary Services team includes post mortem examinations on wild birds (under the Wild Bird Disease Surveillance budget) and on wild mammals (under the Animal Welfare budget). These budgets are funded by Advisory Activity grants-in-aid from the Scottish Government.

Carcase submissions for this wildlife crime summary come, in the main, from Police Scotland. Other substantial contributions come from the SSPCA and RSPB. Small numbers of carcases come from other sources, such as Scottish Natural Heritage, other conservation or wildlife charities, or members of the public. Where the presence of wildlife crime is suspected following post mortem examination in cases submitted by non-law-enforcement agencies, the police are notified of the outcome to allow investigation to proceed.

In addition to wildlife crime investigation, wild bird carcase submissions in Scotland are used for disease surveillance, notably exotic zoonotic diseases such as avian influenza or West Nile virus. The recent outbreaks of avian influenza in commercial units are an illustration of the need for surveillance for diseases of concern which may be carried by wild birds, particularly given the very long distances involved in migration patterns in some species.

In 2014-15, a total of 158 cases were submitted, of which 41 cases involved mammals and 117 involved birds. These are shown in Table 9 below.

As can be seen from the data in Table 9, the percentage of wild bird submissions suspected to be crime related following post-mortem examination is lower than the comparable percentage of mammal cases. There are several factors which may contribute to this difference. Firstly, buzzards tend to predominate the avian submissions by police. These birds are very numerous; they are large birds of prey, so their carcases are noticeable and survive well for some time after death; and they are also a species known to be persecuted, all of which may lead to a high rate of report for this particular species by members of the public.

Table 10: Wildlife cases examined by SAC Consulting Veterinary Services under advisory activity funding, 2010-11 to 2014-15

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

Total wildlife cases examined as possible wildlife crimes

153

163

137

199

158

Total mammal cases

39

41

48

50

41

Total mammals identified by post mortem as crime related

22

26

22

25

26

% of mammal cases identified by post mortem as crime related

56%

63%

46%

50%

63%

Total bird cases

114

122

89

149

117

Total bird cases identified by post mortem as crime related

26

25

16

21

30

% of bird cases identified by post mortem as crime related

23%

21%

18%

14%

26%

Source: SAC Consulting Veterinary Services

Secondly, the potential for a wild bird carcase to be submitted in a condition of advanced degradation (such that no diagnosis can be reached) can be higher than that of mammals - the presence of feathers over the carcase, which can survive for long periods in apparently good condition after death, can give the superficial appearance of a fairly intact and potentially usable carcase even where there is little to no soft tissue left within. This can reduce the number of avian submissions in which a positive suspicion of crime can be identified.

The increase in cases submitted as potential wildlife crimes over the past few years may be a reflection of increased public awareness of issues surrounding wildlife crime. The reporting of high profile wildlife crime cases in the media may be a contributor, with consequent recognition by members of the public of the need to report incidents and animals found in suspicious circumstances to the police.

Wild mammalian work in the year 2014-2015 has covered a wide range of species including hedgehogs, squirrels, hares, otters, badgers, foxes, and deer. With regard to the causes of death or injury, snaring/trapping, dog attack (which may include badger baiting, hare coursing, hunting deer with dogs, or unintended loss of control of a pet around wildlife), shooting and suspected deliberate poisoning were all seen.

The avian cases have covered a range of species, though raptors always tend to predominate in cases submitted as suspected wildlife crimes. Causes of death or injury included shooting, poisoning, trapping, and dog attack.

In cases where the cause of death was recorded as "shooting", a mixture of rifle, shotgun and air rifle injuries were represented. Poisoning abuse incidents are confirmed by testing at SASA and so the same cases referred to here also appear in Table 8.

3.3 Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) - General Licence Restrictions

As part of a package of anti-wildlife crime measures announced by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, SNH announced in 2014 that they would prevent the use of general licences to trap or shoot wild birds on land where there is evidence of wildlife crime against birds. Police Scotland will share information with SNH where it may prove to be of assistance in deciding on the use of these restrictions. The measures were back-dated to 1 January 2014, allowing action to be taken where there is evidence of relevant offences from that date onwards.

While no general licence restrictions were issued by SNH during the data period covered by this report, the first restrictions were issued in late 2015, as follows:

Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) published their framework for implementing restrictions on the use of General Licences in October 2014, which was part of a package of measures aimed at tackling raptor persecution. The rationale behind the restriction process was that the light-touch approach to regulation offered by General Licences (where there is no application process, and no significant registration or reporting requirements) would not be appropriate where there has been a loss of confidence. This confidence is lost in situations where there has been evidence to show that crimes against wild birds have taken place.

SNH meet with Police Scotland and the National Wildlife Crime Unit every 3 months to review new information on bird crimes in Scotland and to identify any possible cases for future restrictions. Possible cases are reviewed against the criteria set out in the framework document and must be based upon clear evidence of crimes being committed.

Two General Licence restrictions were imposed in November 2015 following evidence being received from Police Scotland that crimes against wild birds had been committed in areas of land in the Scottish Borders and in Stirlingshire. In both cases no prosecutions were brought. These restrictions were imposed out with the timescale for this report and will be covered more fully in the 2016 Annual Report. It is however worth noting that that permission to undertake a Judicial Review of the restriction in the Scottish Borders has been granted by the courts, with this expected to be heard early 2017.

3.4 Police Scotland - Firearms Licensing

If Police Scotland are made aware of circumstances that affect a person's suitability to hold a shotgun licence or a firearms certificate, they may revoke them - or refuse an application for a new one. Wildlife crime convictions can form part of that consideration.

Table 10 summarises licensing decisions taken as a result of wildlife crime offences between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2015.

Table 11: Firearm licensing decisions due to wildlife crime, 2013-14 to 2014-15

Year

Licence/Certificate Type

Refused/Revoked

Type of Offence

Legislation

2013-14

Firearms and Shotgun

Revoked

Poaching

Deer (Scotland) Act 1996

2013-14

Firearms

Refused

Poaching

Salmon & Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003

2014-15

None

Source: Police Scotland

Additional data will be added each year, until it is possible to include a rolling five-year summary as with other data in this report.

3.5 Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ( SSPCA)

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ( SSPCA) and their Special Investigations Unit ( SIU) are able to lead or support certain wildlife crime investigations in Scotland. Powers are granted to suitably trained staff by Scottish Ministers under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.

SSPCA inspectors deal with routine domestic and wildlife welfare cases, however the SIU has a slightly different remit dealing with cases which are linked to illegal activities often involving serious and organised crime groups. The SIU deals with both wildlife incidents and incidents involving domestic animals such as dogfighting and the puppy trade. Some of the SIU's work involves incidents where there is both a domestic animal and wildlife element such as badger baiting. The SIU consists of 5 inspectors and 1 intelligence manager.

The SIU receives information (and complaints) from two main sources - the SSPCA animal helpline will alert the SIU to any information that may be of interest, and some information is fed directly to the unit from intelligence sources and other agencies. The SIU estimate that between April 2014 and March 2015 they received:

  • 78 pieces of information for consideration from the SSPCA helpline
  • 260 pieces of information from other sources. Upon investigation, some pieces of information may relate to incidents that may not in fact turn out to be the result of crime, may not actually involve wildlife, or are duplicate pieces of information relating to the same incident.

Table 11 provides a further breakdown of incidents where the SIU identified a crime had taken place, including those reported to COPFS, listed under the six PAW Scotland priority areas. This table will be added to, year on year, until it is possible to show a rolling five year picture as with other data sources in the report. These incidents were for cases investigated solely by the SIU.

Table 12: Wildlife incidents identified by SIU as crimes from April 2014 to March 2015*

Type of wildlife crime

Pieces of information identified as crime

Reported to COPFS

Badger persecution

18

1

Illegal trade ( CITES)

3

0

Raptor Persecution

15

1

Bat Persecution

2

0

Poaching and coursing

26

0

Freshwater pearl mussels

0

0

Other

28

4

TOTAL

92

6

Source: Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The incidents in Table 11 also included:

  • 52 relating to trapping or snaring offences
  • 0 relating to fox hunting offences (legal hunts i.e. fox hunting as opposed to hunting foxes)

The SIU report cases directly to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS). As a result, any crimes or suspected crimes investigated solely by the SSPCA will not appear in the police recorded crime statistics shown in Table 1 of this report. If reported for prosecution however, they will however be included in the COPFS figures and those cases will have been given a Scottish Criminal Records Office ( SCRO) number.

Not all incidents identified as crimes will provide sufficient evidence for a prosecution to be progressed to COPFS. Table 12 below shows a five year summary of wildlife-related investigations led by the SIU, including those reported to COPFS.

Table 12 also shows the numbers of investigations where the SIU supported investigations led by Police Scotland. A new database was launched in December 2014 allowing more accurate collation data from that point onwards.

Table 13: Wildlife crime investigations dealt with by SIU, 2010-11 to 2014-15

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

Incidents investigated solely by SIU

53

51

54

69

92

Number of cases reported to COPFS

12

6

8

10

6

% reported to COPFS

23%

11%

15%

14%

7%

Police Scotland-led investigations assisted by SIU

55

60

65

70

49

Total

108

111

119

139

141

Source: Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

3.6 National Wildlife Crime Unit ( NWCU)

The National Wildlife Crime Unit has a dedicated intelligence function. In the 2014-15 year, the following bespoke intelligence analysis was provided for Scotland:

  • Intelligence database checks for police wildlife liaison officers across Scotland
  • Update of the Operation Easter target list - to support and direct proactive targeting across Scotland
  • Freshwater pearl mussel problem profile
  • Submission of three Scottish Wildlife Crime Organised Crime Groups
  • Network association charts to assist Police Wildlife Liaison Officer investigations
  • Bespoke Geographical Information Services ( GIS) maps to assist active investigations
  • Summary of poaching convictions for Scottish Poaching PDG

In addition, the NWCU's Scottish Investigative Support Officer ( SISO) provides advice and 'on the ground' support for wildlife crime investigations. In 2014/2015, the NWCU SISO was involved in casework as well as the strategic development of wildlife crime enforcement and intelligence sharing. The SISO gave advice and assistance to Police Scotland Wildlife Crime Liaison Officers and other organisations on numerous occasions and on a variety of subjects including bird, poaching and pearl mussel crime; traps; disturbance to wildlife caused by public events; coastal and floral crime; environmental disturbance; dangerous wild animals and the sourcing of expert witnesses.

Throughout the year, contributions were provided to several operations involving falconry, peregrine nest protection, hare coursing and raptor crime and the annual delivery of Operation Easter to target egg thieves and nest disturbance during the bird breeding season. There was also a focus on trading in endangered species and the SISO was instrumental in the execution of five search warrants.

The SISO gave presentations at several events throughout the year including local and national police training, Sharing Good Practice events, water bailiff training and the UK Wildlife Crime Enforcer's Conference. An ongoing element of the role continues to include participation in several PAW Scotland groups (Poaching & Coursing, Media, Freshwater Pearl Mussel and Raptor).

The NWCU works with Police Scotland to produce intelligence products which are based upon analysis of intelligence. Table 13 below provides a summary of wildlife crime intelligence logs, broken down by relevant keyword. This table has been included to provide a clearer picture of the spread of wildlife crime intelligence dealt with by Police Scotland and the NWCU and reflects the kind of information which is being reported to the police.

Table 14: Scottish Wildlife Crime Intelligence Logs 2014-15

Keyword

Intelligence Logs

% of total

Fish

167

18.0%

Raptor/Bird of Prey

112

12.1%

Deer

106

11.4%

Hare

87

9.4%

Badger

43

4.6%

FWPM/Pearl Mussel

9

1.0%

CITES

6

0.6%

Bat

6

0.6%

All 'other' wildlife

390

42.1%

Total

926

Source: Scottish Intelligence Database/ NWCU (used with permission of Police Scotland )

It should be noted that an intelligence log is not a detected crime but a tool for police to use to establish a bigger picture of what is happening in a given area.

A single incident may generate a number of pieces of intelligence. Intelligence logs cannot be used to (a) directly compare year on year nor (b) comment on long term trends, as they are reviewed on a yearly basis and deleted if grounds for inclusion for policing purposes no longer exist. As a result, the number of intelligence logs for any given year decreases over time.

Table 14 provides a summary of the three most common types of priority intelligence log (i.e. not including the 'Other' category) held in the database for 2010-11 to 2014-15.

Table 15: Most Common Priority NWCU Intelligence Logs

(2010-11 to 2014-15)

Year

Three most common priority intelligence types (as a percentage of the total number of intelligence logs)

2010-11

Fish (5%), Badger (3%) and Deer, Raptor/Bird of Prey, FWPM/Pearl Mussel (2% each)

2011-12

Fish (11%), Deer (9%) and Hare (3%)

2012-13

Fish (17%), Deer (17%) and Hare (9%)

2013-14

Fish (20%), Deer (16%) and Raptor/Bird of Prey (10%)

2014-15

Fish (18%), Raptor/Bird of Prey (12%) and Deer (11%)

Source: Scottish Intelligence Database/ NWCU (used with permission of Police Scotland)


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