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New training course helps officers make impact on wildlife crime

Scotland’s rural crime investigators have made a major breakthrough in tackling wildlife crime with a significant increase in detection rates.

A new wildlife crime training course has helped reduce rural crime in Scotland.

The force's decision to build capability and enhance skills has paid off with an increase in detection rates. 

Data released by police Scotland showed rural crime detection rates increased as officers made successes against thieves targeting fisheries and rare birds

According to the force’s quarterly performance report, detection rose to 55.2% in 2020 compared to 34.2% in the same six month period in 2019.

The successes were due to a focus on fishing offences during lockdown, however officers also continued carry out significant investigations into offences related to raptor persecution.

Rural crime investigators are facing a tough task, the RSPB revealed in September that attacks on birds of prey had doubled over the last year. Illegal trapping to protect grouse shoots is largely behind the increase.

But the force also revealed wildlife crime reports have nearly doubled.

Between April and September 2020, Police Scotland recorded 203 wildlife crime offences compared to 111 in the same period in 2019/20, an increase of 82.9%.

The figures were released covering April to September 2020/21.

Detective Chief Superintendent Gary Cunningham, Police Scotland’s lead for Wildlife Crime, said: “Scotland’s diverse wildlife is one of its greatest assets, yet there are those who seek to destroy it. Wildlife crime has an enormous impact not only on our natural heritage but also on those communities that rely on the employment and tourism it brings.

“Investigating wildlife crime can be demanding and complex, it requires specialist skills. Earlier this year we introduced a new training course to build our capability and to enhance the skills and knowledge of our officers.

Wildlife campaigners called for the Scottish Government to toughen licensing for fishing and hunting.

RSPB Scotland said: "Piecemeal action has not been enough; urgent action and a meaningful deterrent to illegal behaviours against some of our most vulnerable and highly protected species is needed now."

Detective Chief Superintendent Gary Cunningham said police work alone was not enough to make a bigger impact: “We will continue to invest in tackling wildlife crime and ensuring our officers are trained to the highest level. But we are also asking the public to be aware and if they see anything suspicious to report it to us.”

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