Talks and new wildlife legislation in Scotland

A snare set on a log over a burn - now illegal as the animal caught would be suspended.

A snare set on a log over a burn – now illegal as the animal caught would be suspended.

Hen harrier chicks - in Scotland from 16 March 2013 hen harriers are protected from harassment

Hen harrier chicks – in Scotland from 16 March 2013 hen harriers are protected from harassment

I’ve had a really interesting few days. I have given three talks, two of which I’ve mentioned in an earlier post. The third was by invitation of CKD Galbraith, land agents, to a group of 60 – 70 farmers. My talk, at St Andrew’s University, centred around new wildlife legislation in Scotland, covering new snaring and trapping laws, close seasons for brown hares and mountain, hare coursing and the fact that only one witness is now needed to prove a case, and of course vicarious liability.

Wildlife legislation is a bit of a guddle, with primary legislation well into double figures, and amended at various times by secondary legislation. While it is accepted that the legislation is considerably improved and much more fit for purpose, police officers still often struggle to understand it. Specialist wildlife prosecutors still have some difficulty and at least one sheriff has told me that it badly needs sorted out and consolidated into one easily understood Act.

There were some good questions from the farmers, with clear concern about their responsibilities under vicarious liability. I was pleasantly surprised that there were no complaints about birds of prey or badgers; farmers seem to live in harmony with badgers in Scotland since there is not a major problem with bovine tuberculosis, and they seem to appreciate the numbers of rodents and rabbits caught by most birds of prey. Only one farmer, in a private conversation over a glass of wine, thought that buzzard numbers were impacting on the songbird population, though I think I managed to convince him that buzzards took very few small birds unless they were exceedingly unwell and easy to catch.

New legislation taking effect from Saturday 16 March relates to additions to Schedules 1A and A1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. These are respectively birds which are protected from harassment and birds’ nests that are protected all year round. The golden eagle, hen harrier and red kite are added to the white-tailed eagle under Schedule 1A, which means that a former (legal) ploy of harassing hen harriers just prior to them starting to nest is now illegal. The golden eagle joins the white-tailed eagle in Schedule A1 in respect of year-round protection of its nest (or nests, as often a pair have more than one nest). Some folks have queried why the hen harrier has not been added to this Schedule, but while the hen harrier may repeatedly nest in the same area (if they are lucky enough to get peace to do so on driven grouse moors) they don’t use the same nest.

On Monday I was working at the National Wildlife Crime Unit at Livingston, and the following day took part in a 90 minute-long teleconference on badger crime, under the operational banner of Operation Meles.  Crime committed against our badgers is unfortunately still commonplace with three men involved in a series of horrific torturing of badgers jailed for four months and banned from keeping dogs for ten years.  It is interesting that the judge in the case said that the severity of the trio’s offences outstripped the sentencing powers available to him.

I look forward now to attending then Scottish Police Wildlife Crime Conference tomorrow at Tulliallan Castle. It will be one of the few I have attended without giving a presentation so it will a pleasant change just to sit at the back and listen.

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