Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman has tabled a parliamentary motion calling on the Scottish Government to increase the investigatory powers of the SSPCA.
Regular blog readers will know that a succession of Environment Ministers (five!) in the Scottish Government have dragged out this fiasco for an embarrassingly long number of years (six years today, in fact).
For new blog readers, here’s a summary timeline.
In January this year, in response to a parliamentary question from Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell, the Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said she would announce a decision “in the first half of 2017“. That gives her until the end of June.
She was also asked about this decision during her visit last weekend to the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s conference. She responded with caution and told the audience it was a “complex issue” and much more complex than people thought.
It isn’t complex at all. It’s quite straightforward. Here is a brief overview of the issue:
Currently, the SSPCA has the statutory power to investigate wildlife crimes that involve an animal in distress. So for example, if they are called out to an incident of a golden eagle that had been caught in an illegally-set spring trap and the eagle was still alive, the SSPCA has the power to collect evidence as part of a criminal investigation. This is because they have powers under the animal welfare legislation and this incident would certainly fall into a welfare category where the animal was ‘under the control of man’.
However, if they are called out to an incident where a golden eagle had eaten a poisoned bait and had died two minutes before the SSPCA arrived on scene, the SSPCA does not currently have the power to investigate because the welfare legislation doesn’t apply (the bird is already dead) and the dead bird is not ‘under the control of man’. In this scenario, all the SSPCA can do is to call the police and hope that the police attend the scene in a timely manner. How stupid is that?
Another example – if the SSPCA was called out to an incident of an illegally-snared badger, and that badger was already dead, and the SSPCA found 100 illegally-set snares at the same location, the SSPCA would not be able to investigate; they would have to rely upon the police to attend. If the badger was still alive (suffering), the SSPCA could investigate.
The proposal laid out in the consultation is to widen the investigatory powers of the SSPCA so that they’re not just limited to operating under welfare legislation; the increased powers, if granted, would also allow them to operate under certain parts of the Wildlife & Countryside Act in addition to the welfare legislation.
Importantly, the increased powers would allow them to continue their investigations into animal welfare incidents where an animal is in distress, but also to investigate wildlife crimes where the animal is already dead, and even wildlife crimes that haven’t yet involved an animal – for example an illegally-set trap.
Here is MSP Andy Wightman’s parliamentary motion:
If you live in Scotland, please contact your MSP and encourage them to support this parliamentary motion. Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham needs to see the strength of feeling on this before she makes her decision in June. If you’re not sure who your MSP is, you can find them here.