Glib response from Environment Minister’s office re: wildlife crime penalties

community payback orderIt’s not been an impressive week for Scotland’s Environment Minister’s office, and the poor performance continues…

Do you remember back in May this year, when Scottish gamekeeper James O’Reilly was convicted of committing four wildlife crime offences on the Cardross Estate in Stirlingshire, including the setting of gin traps, one of which caused such injury to a buzzard that the bird had to be euthanised? See here for a recap.

O’Reilly received what we consider a typically pathetic sentence – a 240 hour Community Payback Order – and we encouraged blog readers to contact Environment Minister Dr Aileen McLeod to ask when the Government-commissioned Wildlife Crime Penalties Review report would be published.

Here’s the response received by one of our readers:


Thank you for your letter of 21 May 2015, to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Dr Aileen McLeod. I have been asked to respond on the Minister’s behalf.

Your letter, headed “Wildlife Crime Penalties Review”, asks when the review of the penalties for wildlife crime will be published. The review has taken longer than anticipated due to the volume of material considered and the range of issues which has arisen. The group are currently working on the draft report and we expect this to be with the Minister before the summer recess. The Minister will wish to consider the report carefully and at this juncture we are not able to provide details of when any of the recommendations might be implemented.

You also raise a concern about the recent conviction of a gamekeeper who received a 240 hour Community Payback Order (CPO). Sentencing is a matter for the Scottish Courts, however CPOs are not intended to be a “soft option”, they are an effective alternative to custody – individuals released from a custodial sentence of six months or less are reconvicted more than twice as often as those given a CPO.  There are also penalties for breaching a CPO, including an electronic monitoring sanction for non-compliance, so offenders cannot simply ignore the court’s punishment.

I hope that you find this response helpful.

Yours faithfully,

Karen Hunter Wildlife Crime Policy Officer


The third paragraph of this response is astounding. “CPOs….are an effective alternative to custody – individuals released from custodial sentences of six months or less are reconvicted more than twice as often as those given a CPO“. From where has this statement been lifted? It may well be applicable to easily-detectable crimes such as theft but the statement is entirely out of context and cannot possibly be applicable to assessing the reconviction rates of offenders involved in wildlife crime because there’s only ever been one custodial sentence for a raptor-killing criminal and that was only handed out in January this year (to gamekeeper George Mutch). That means that there aren’t any data on the deterrent effect of CPOs vs custody for wildlife crime offenders so making a statement to suggest that CPOs are more effective is disingenuous at best, and that’s being generous.

In addition, it’s well established that conviction rates (let alone reconviction rates) of wildlife crime offenders in no way reflect the actual offending rate – see the recently published LINK report for the low rate of prosecutions, let alone convictions, for reported wildlife crimes in Scotland. So to suggest that CPOs are an effective deterrent for addressing wildlife crime is absolute nonsense.

For all we know, a high percentage of convicted wildlife crime offenders are reoffending left right and centre – they’re just not being caught! Equally, of course, they may not be reoffending. Or, given the lengthy delays involved in bringing criminal prosecutions, they may have reoffended but the cases are still going through the system (remember that CPOs only came in to force in 2011, and we’re still waiting for some trials relating to offences that were alleged to have occurred several years ago). The point is, the limited data available do not provide for a robust assessment of the effectiveness of CPOs vs custodial sentences for wildlife crime offenders, so officials in the Environment Minister’s office would do well not to try and fob us off with such glib tosh.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Winston Roddick, is calling for tougher sentencing powers to allow the courts to deal with convicted raptor killers. His efforts are being supported by wildlife presenter Iolo Williams – see here.


8 Responses to “Glib response from Environment Minister’s office re: wildlife crime penalties”

  1. July 6, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Ah well, we wondered what Dr McLeod would be like as Environment Minister. Now we know.

  2. 2 Bill Jackson
    July 6, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Why do I get the feeling here in Scotland the reason nothing very much is enforceable in Law is because somewhere along the line they are all joined at the hip to a shooter or land owner..persecution of all things wild gets no better in fact may get worse after reading this poor response from a minister, but it will suit someones pocket by the end of the year one way or another …killing wildlife pays well, just look around?

    Must shoot off now (with a camera)…Bill Jackson

  3. July 6, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    Wee Aileen is giving all o he time to land-reform… she aint going to give any priority to tweaking legislation that is already in place.

    How about 240 hours community service acting as a replacement for a missing male harrier… running about catching voles all day in the rain? I have no doubt this type of sentence has its place but on its own …nope. Its incredible that they could commit a wildlife crime and st5ill be able to work with “wildlife” while they serve their sentence.

  4. 4 David
    July 6, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    ‘Calls for a more punitive regime for wildlife crime might be justified on moral and campaigning grounds. (…) The argument that persistent crime and repeat offenders are a consequence of weak legislation and ineffective sentencing reflects the ‘commonsense’ approach to crime often portrayed in tabloid newspapers and other media. (…) It would be far harder to campaign for community sentences, target hardening, rehabilitative regimes and increased education and to promote the often complex arguments and reasoning behind persistent wildlife crime problems. (…)

    In practice, however, while the perception might be that wildlife laws are inadequate and a more punitive regime is required, the reality is that it is in enforcement of wildlife legislation that problems occur. Even where the available penalties are considered to be sufficient, they are inconsistently applied, penalties are often at the lower end of the available scale and enforcement is carried out on an ad -hoc, largely voluntary basis across the UK (Nurse 2003, 2009, 2011). The chances of wildlife crimes being detected and an offender being apprehended, prosecuted, and receiving a sentence that has either a deterrent effect or contains sufficient rehabilitative elements to prevent further offending is slight. Even though the Law Commissions reforms, if implemented, could do much to clarify wildlife law the problems within its enforcement regime and its reliance on NGOs remains in place. This being the case, a more punitive regime or wholesale change to wildlife legislation is unlikely to be effective unless enforcement problems are also addressed and wildlife crime is seen as mainstream criminal justice.’

    Repainting the Thin Green Line: The Enforcement of UK Wildlife Law by Dr Angus Nurse

    • 5 Andrew
      July 6, 2015 at 10:15 pm

      What you say is, in it’s own right, true but given the difficulty of enforcement and detection an extremely punitive sentence for those involved would be a deterrent. Of course it would have to be ridiculously punitive. Removal of firearms and shotgun licence for 10 years would be a start. EU subsidies removed for ten years for the estate. Given the difficulty of detection I don’t think that would be unfair. 1st offence – tough luck, a professional keeper should know the law and the risks.
      Dream on . . .

      • 6 David
        July 7, 2015 at 9:10 pm

        Here is a quote from today’s Guardian (minimum six-month prison sentence for carrying a knife for repeat offenders):

        ‘The official impact assessment adds that the published evidence shows that making sentences more severe only has a minimal impact as a deterrent and that increasing the likelihood of being caught is actually more effective.’


        (Also, even if your assumption (that everyone who commits wildlife crimes have firearms licences) would be true, the fact is that people rarely make a cost-benefit analysis before committing crimes. If you ask the criminals who were, indeed, in possession of firearms licences and/or used to work as keepers it is possible that they would insist that they weren’t even committing a crime – even if they have been sentenced. If you are really interested read the whole article from Dr Nurse or look up ‘Neutralisation Theory’.)

  5. 7 Merlin
    July 6, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    Spain 2015

    A farmer in Spain has been found guilty of laying out poisoned baits and poisoning at least 11 red kites, five dogs, six foxes, a cat, a raven, a buzzard and four vultures.

    His sentence? Two years in prison, two years disqualification from farming or any other profession relating to animal husbandry (post release), four years disqualification from hunting (post release), a fine of 90,270 Euros plus an additional fine of 28,500 Euros to be used specifically to monitor red kites in the local area for the next three years (see here).

    Malta 2015

    A 24-year-old hunter from Cospicua was this evening sentenced to one year in jail and fined €5,000 for yesterday’s shooting of a protected kestrel, which led to the early closure of the spring hunting season.

    Scotland 2015

    Scottish gamekeeper James O’Reilly convicted of committing four wildlife crime offences on the Cardross Estate in Stirlingshire, including the setting of gin traps, one of which caused such injury to a buzzard that the bird had to be euthanised, Has received a 240 hour Community Payback Order (CPO).

    England 2015

    Neil Wainwright had been accused of using a Larsen trap, illegally baited with two live quails, to trap birds of prey. Footage from the camera had identified Wainwright reportedly seen carrying a dead buzzard.

    He has been cleared of charges relating to the alleged illegal use of a trap after the District Judge pronounced the RSPB’s use of covert surveillance “disproportionate”.

    we are officially the worst country in Europe if not the world for protecting our wildlife, we couldn’t even protect five pairs of Hen Harriers in a small national park yet condemn the ivory trade in Africa, deforestation in South America, I could go on. a very disappointing few months

    • 8 Chris Roberts
      July 7, 2015 at 9:16 am

      What with xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx all ‘at it’ is it any wonder that detection rates and sentences are so dismal in our ‘green and pleasant land’.

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