Wildlife crime. The two words that we wildlife lovers not only hate to associate with each other, but look upon with utter abhorrence. Usually, when it comes to this topic, I am harping on about how our slap on the wrist punishments just aren’t good enough and just don’t fit the crime, but not this time. This time the news is better, as it has come to pass that the Scottish government has accepted recommendations provided by the wildlife crime penalties review group.
What does this mean? Well, that offenders are now facing much tougher punishments, which could include jail sentences of up to 12 months and fines of up to £40,000. Although many of us may be surprised that such punishments are not already issued, this is a huge step in the right direction. Indeed, especially when we consider that the current maximum fine for the majority of wildlife crime is only £5000 and/or a 6 month custodial sentence. Only £5000?! Of course I am not suggesting that £5000 is not a considerable amount of money, but when we consider the crimes that are being committed and what some of our wildlife is suffering, £5000 is, to put it mildly, a little meagre. In addition, it is very rarely the case that the maximum fine or sentences are even issued, with numerous raptor persecution cases for example, fetching only £300-£500. Basically, when it comes to punishments for wildlife crime, we have been waiting for tougher sentencing for quite some time.
The Scottish Environment Minister, Dr Aileen McLeod has stated that she wanted to bring the punishments for wildlife crime into line with other environmental crimes, not only to serve as a punishment for such offences, but also as a deterrent. In addition to this, the Scottish government has claimed that it is also willing to take forward and look into a number of other recommendations put forward by the review group. The Scottish government has stated that this is a step in the right direction and could also lead to the usage of alternative penalties for wildlife crime. What are these alternatives? Well, they include the forfeiture of equipment used in crimes, greater use of impact statements in court to illustrate the extent of crimes and new sentencing guidelines.
The RSPB has of course welcomed this news, praising Scotland for having the strongest wildlife protection laws in the UK, but with the weaknesses in punishments for wildlife offences still needing to be highlighted. So, it is all good news for our Scottish wildlife, but the proof really will be in the pudding. After all, will such punishments be enforced? Will individuals, groups or estates really be fined £40,000, or will many escape with a couple of thousand or less? Only time will tell, but for now, at least the wildlife of Scotland can be happy with their increased protection.
So, it seems that Scotland is moving forward, but will England, Wales and Northern Ireland follow Scotland’s lead, or will the ever present tumbleweed continue to roll by?
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