Scottish Land & Estates has said that it remains essential that wildlife crime, like other forms of crime, is tackled by the police rather than privately funded charities – and that sufficient resources should be made available to ensure this happens.
That call was made as Scottish Land & Estates, which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses across Scotland, submitted its response to a Scottish Government consultation on altering powers to search and seize evidence during wildlife crime investigations.
The consultation, which could lead to an extension of the investigatory powers available to Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) Inspectors, has raised concerns that police functions could be handed over to interest groups and effectively ‘privatised’ in the absence of a properly resourced police force to deal with the issue.
However, Scottish Land & Estates has maintained that wildlife crime should be treated in the same manner as other areas of crime.
Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “The Scottish Government’s consultation is an important one as we continue to seek an end to wildlife crime in the country.
“On first glance, the proposals laid out in the consultation document may seem like a common-sense way to help the police at low cost. We firmly support much of the work carried out by the SSPCA and we value our partnership with them under the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland umbrella.
“There are, however, wider implications for the judicial system if their role is expanded. It is our view that this would be problematic, as the SSPCA would have to balance their function as a membership funded and driven charity – with pre-determined stances on certain wildlife issues – with a role of impartial investigator on matters where a crime may have been committed.
“Above all else, there is a need to ensure accountability. Police officers go through rigorous selection, training and vetting, and there is a clear chain of command and disciplinary procedures if they act incorrectly, all of which ensures they are properly accountable to the state. Police have a focus firmly on the law whereas the SSPCA is a privately funded charity with a different set of objectives that govern how its own employees behave. These objectives include campaigning to change the law in respect of areas where they are now seeking powers to investigate and seize evidence on suspicion.
“Certain campaigners have suggested that the investigation into recent raptor deaths in the north of Scotland has been inadequate and that had extended powers been available to the SSPCA, the investigation would be more effective. However, it has not been made clear what difference that would have made, given that the SSPCA were actually involved anyway in their normal role of supporting the police.
“There is also a real concern that such a move could be the thin end of a wedge that would result in Police Scotland reprioritising their resources and leaving the SSPCA to investigate most wildlife crimes. The end result would be less policing of wildlife crime at the very time when this and rural crime generally need more police resources.
“Moving forward, we believe the correct approach should be to equip the police with the resources they need to tackle wildlife crime, which includes the increasing levels of illegal poaching and coursing which often involve organised gangs. We concur with the Law Society of Scotland that more needs to be done to assist the police, not hand their functions over to outside interest groups who are not properly accountable. The police have access to resources such as forensics, intelligence and DNA databases which are widely seen as the best way to achieve successful outcomes to wildlife crime cases.”