On 4th October 2007 the Minister for the Environment, Mike Russell, and the Solicitor General, Frank Mulholland, announced that there would be a joint thematic inspection by HMICS and IPS, to consider and report on the arrangements for preventing, investigating and prosecuting wildlife crime in Scotland.
This decision had followed a Parliamentary debate on wildlife crime, prompted by widespread concern that this had become a significant problem in Scotland. Available figures had shown a disappointing rise in instances of wildlife poisoning over the preceding years and a low number of detections and prosecutions.
The debate itself revealed widespread cross-party acknowledgement of the importance of biodiversity and protection of wildlife to Scotland's natural heritage, both culturally and increasingly as a positive component of rural business and tourism. It also elicited universal condemnation of such crime and its perpetrators. Most of those present were however, aware of the substantial difficulties specific to detecting, investigating and gathering evidence relating to these offences.
Many contributors called for Ministers to ensure that every police force in Scotland employed a full-time wildlife crime officer; a topic that we will return to in this report. Chief constables by statute, have operational independence over the deployment of their resources.
Consequently they cannot be directed in this way. Where a similar solution has been reached in other circumstances, it has been through the direct central funding of specific policing roles. Across Scotland forces used the terms 'Wildlife Crime Officer' and 'Wildlife and Environment Crime Officer' to describe what was essentially the same post. In those forces where the term 'environment' was used within the job title we did not find significant evidence of different or increased work relating to environment or habitats. In general we found the working relationships between the Police and Scottish National Heritage ( SNH) and Scottish Environment Protection Agency ( SEPA) to be less developed than their equivalents elsewhere in the UK, a subject we return to later in this report.
Within the debate there was much positive comment on the enthusiastic input by various individuals and agencies. Even so, tensions arising as a result of the sometimes divergent aims and aspirations of some groups could be discerned. There was disappointment too that recent substantial improvements made to tighten current legislation in this area had not brought about significant reductions in all aspects of wildlife crime.
It was within this overall context that the inspection was announced. By jointly involving the Inspectorates of Constabulary and Prosecution it could examine processes and practices along the continuum of prevention, investigation and ultimately prosecution. The report was due to be presented to the Scottish Parliament by 31st March 2008.
This report is the response from HMICS and IPS to that Parliamentary announcement.