BETWEEN April and September 2020, Police Scotland recorded 203 wildlife crime offences compared to 111 in the same period of last year, an increase of 82.9%.

Detection rates also increased, rising to 55.2% in 2020 compared to 34.2% in the same six month period in 2019.

The latest figures were released in Police Scotland’s Quarterly Performance Report covering April to September 2020.

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.

“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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Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “A steep rise in any form of wildlife crime is a concern but the data is reflective of the huge 282% increase in fish poaching throughout this period. Indeed, throughout the pandemic, our rural areas have become hotspots for not just poaching but anti-social behaviour, flytipping, vandalism and various other crimes.

“Hare coursing has been one of the most prevalent wildlife crime offences for many years and we applaud the action taken by Police Scotland and other stakeholders to tackle this issue.

“More than half of all wildlife crimes are being solved this year, with a 20.9% increase in detection rates, and this demonstrates the continued importance of awareness-raising and intelligence sharing. It also underlines that resources for specialist wildlife crime police can make a real impact on tackling this issue. It will also be aided by the introduction of tougher penalties for those found guilty, something which we requested for many years.”

A spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “Increases in wildlife crime are a concern at any time but Police Scotland deserve credit for improving detection rates. The 282% rise in fish poaching obviously skews the figures, as do rising hare coursing incidents.

“Again, credit to the police for bringing 21 charges. Raptor persecution incidents remain relatively isolated although – like all crimes – must be stamped out. We understand one investigation, which has been ongoing since 2018, accounts for multiple charges of raptor poisoning unrelated to any land management.”