The Scottish Government has published its work plan for 2016-2017 (see here).
We are pleased to see that tackling wildlife crime, and specifically raptor persecution, is a feature (see page 56).
“We must protect the environment from those who seek to damage it for personal gain. We will increase the penalties for wildlife crime and consider the creation of new sentencing guidelines in line with the recommendations from the Wildlife Crimes Penalties Review Group“.
Good. Penalties for wildlife crimes have generally been at the lower end of the scale and penalties issued for similar crimes have been inconsistently applied. We fully support the recommendations of the Wildlife Crimes Penalties Review Group, published in November last year (see here) and we look forward to the Scottish Government getting on with implementing them.
However, increasing the tariffs available to the judiciary will count for little if the problems of early-stage enforcement (e.g. Police under-resourcing, the slow pace of gathering evidence and poor follow-up investigations – see here) are also not addressed. Regardless of the punitive value of a sentence, the deterrent effect will be limited if an offender knows that the chances of being caught and receiving the punishment are minimal.
It seems that the Scottish Government has recognised this in the work plan:
“Police Scotland will create a new Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit to support the existing network of wildlife crime officers in complex investigations“.
We tentatively welcome this news, although of course much will depend on the details of how this new unit will function. It’s all very well being able to say you’ve got a special wildlife crime unit, but if it’s as semi-dysfunctional as the current National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU – very effective at dealing with the international trade in endangered species but wholly ineffective at dealing with raptor persecution) then there’s little point to its existence.
It’s also a little bit worrying that there is no mention of increased investigatory powers for the SSPCA to help Police Scotland tackle wildlife crime. Is that a sign of the Government’s direction on this issue? Time will tell.
Also included in the work plan is this:
“In order to safeguard vulnerable species from illegal persecution, we will carry out a review of prevention measures including the operation of the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime [PAW Scotland] and supporting Police Scotland in their work to target wildlife crime hotspots. We are prepared to introduce legislation where necessary“.
We very much welcome a review of how PAW Scotland operates. We have been highly critical of this so-called ‘partnership’, particularly the PAW Raptor sub-group, which is dominated by land management groups, some of whom are tainted (indirectly, by association) with raptor persecution. Some of these groups consistently misrepresent raptor crime data and refuse to accept that persecution is an on-going problem. As a result, the PAW Raptor group has achieved very little in terms of tangible results and we hope this review will recognise the group’s failings and act accordingly.
We would welcome the Government’s claim that it is ‘prepared to introduce legislation where necessary‘ but we’ve heard it so many times before that it’s now just seen as empty rhetoric. If they’d just get on with it we’d be 100% supportive.