Wildlife crimes fall as convictions rates increase, report shows

The number of wildlife crimes in Scotland has fallen by 11%, according to official figures.

The overall number of crimes fell to 231 in 2016/17, representing the lowest figure recorded in five years.

A conviction rate of 96% for those who have committed wildlife offences, the highest rate since 2012, was also highlighted in the paper.

Police Scotland DCS David McLaren told Holyrood’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee that he remained wary of any complacency in efforts to continue tackling wildlife crime.

Mr McLaren said: “These are the recorded crimes, there’s still an awful lot of investigation that goes in relation to suspected wildlife crimes that are reported to us.

“Prevention is at the key of what we’re trying to do across the whole wildlife crime piece so anything that’s showing us a reduction is excellent.

“You would hope that we would have some sort of influence over that and that we’ve been successful around reducing wildlife crime.

“But you’re obviously a bit wary of complacency around about this and not necessarily high-fiving each other that there’s been a reduction.

“We know that there’s still wildlife crime going on and that there’s still a significant challenge there, particularly in cases where it’s difficult to establish whether or not a crime’s actually occured.

“We still have a lot of wildlife crime investigations ongoing.”

Mr McLaren added that finding evidence of crime in rural areas had proved challenging due to a lack of CCTV footage and witnesses.

Despite the drop in the number of wildlife crimes and increase in conviction rates, figures for crimes against birds remained relatively high.

Over a five year period from 2012/2013, the number of offences relating to birds fell from 64 to 50 in 2016/17. However, this was a rise of four offences on the figures for 2015/16.

The disappearances of a number of tagged birds of prey (six golden eagles, three hen harriers) – incidents which are not recorded as crimes by Police Scotland – were highlighted as an area of concern.

Mike Flynn, chief superintendent at the Scottish SPCA, said: “These offences occur in remote area where they’re not necessarily observed and it’s the gathering of that evidence that is a problem.

“You can find that you’ve got raptors that have been poisoned, but were they poisoned where they were found or potentially many miles away?

“All of those things are challenges to us and we will do whatever we can, working with partners, to get sufficient evidence and – in all cases where it’s possible to do so – we will take proceedings”.

The annual Wildlife Crime in Scotland Report was published in December 2018.

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