NOW that Werrity has had its report and we now apparently have to wait a further five years for its implementation, perhaps now is the time to consider penalties for the main crimes of driven grouse moor shooting.

Penalties are apparently to be discussed in our Parliament tomorrow. Perhaps the time is now right to admit that catching the perpetrators of wildlife crimes is very, very hard, as these same perpetrators have all the odds stacked on their side.

Our police are busy enough, especially just now. What if there was a specialised organisation, charged with the prevention of crime against wildlife which is already as legally protected as it is possible to be?

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What if there was already an organisation of the specialised investigatory ability required for the job described above, but they lacked the actual power to act on these matters?

What if, there were really imaginative penalties for the offences?

Isn’t it time we realised that the wildlife criminals hold most of the cards and investigations require a much more specialised group of investigators, who the criminals actually fear.

Most, if not all, of the crimes take place on land used for driven grouse moor shooting.

Legally, I of course am not allowed to even think of identifying the perpetrators of crimes, especially those against of our winged birds of prey – commonly known as “raptors”.

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However I am aware that in the areas where these birds disappear, there is actually a team of paid observers of wildlife who are also considered by many to be the main force of the “raptor killers”. So there is little point in seeking their assistance, as they are, at least, highly suspect.

That only leaves one other group. There is in Scotland a highly professional and highly experienced group, which regularly brings animal crime prosecutions to Scottish courts. Surely that group, with its extensive specialist knowledge and, might be worth considering as an alternative investigatory force?

I speak, of course, of the SSPCA.

Given the extra legal powers, very similar to our police force and the strength of enabling legislation from our parliament, now would surely be the time to stop playing about with more penalties – which thus far, are pretty irrelevant – and instead concentrate on catching the offenders!

More power to a dedicated force of catchers appears to me to be the best way of putting a stop to the constant wildlife crime which most see as disgusting and an embarrassment to most folk who actually love to see hen harriers, goshawks, peregrines etc, but tend to only ever see them as a dead bird on a newspaper or TV page.

How about some radical thought being given to the problems of wildlife crime and giving the power to investigate to people who know (and really care) about it?

It is presently illegal to commit the crimes against raptors which we have come to associate with driven grouse moor shooting and its management.

Potential penalties are hardly stopping the activities of the perpetrators of the crimes and – let’s face it – everyone knows why. When there is very, very little chance of being caught in the committing of a crime, there is no deterrence. It is not enough to make stringent penalties if there is no possible or very, very little, chance of ever being caught. Simple ordinary criminals know that one.

Can anyone remember the last time there was a successful prosecution against any estate employee, destroying a nest, or scaring nesting birds, or killing the birds themselves?

There was one case, where the gamekeeper was prosecuted for killing a goshawk, but the owners of the estate could not be traced by our police, so the gamekeeper was prosecuted and his boss never saw a court.

Harry Bickerstaff
St Cyrus, Aberdeenshire