Lawyers in Scotland have called for a Scottish animal charity to be granted greater powers to investigate wildlife crime.
A statement released yesterday by the Law Society of Scotland said that police in Scotland are ill-equipped to adequately investigate wildlife crime and that the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA) would be more effective at the job if given greater legal powers.
The move is in response to a government consultation that was launched in March to look at giving greater investigative powers to the Scottish SPCA. The consultation closes on Monday.
Poisoning of wild birds of prey is a growing problem in Scotland with instances doubling last year, according to the charity. There were 12 poisonings in 2013, up from six in 2012.
The Scottish SPCA already helps police with inquiries into wildlife crimes but lawyers are arguing for the charity to have greater powers to search the cars of suspected raptor killers.
Jim Drysdale, a member of the Law Society of Scotland’s Rural Affairs Committee, said: “Wildlife crime such as the poisoning of birds of prey is a serious issue and causes substantial public concern and it is imperative such incidents are fully investigated and prosecuted when they occur.
“We believe police are best placed to deal with such crime… however, in the absence of increased police resources we support the proposal for SSPCA officers to be granted the proposed powers, which include the ability to search vehicles suspected of carrying illegal carcasses, protected live animals and birds, and illegal traps or poisons.”
In documents submitted to the consultation, the Society said: “Police Scotland currently lacks the resources and personnel to adequately investigate wildlife crime… It is often impossible to attend the scene quickly. This inability to quickly assemble in remote countryside locations, with the appropriate vehicles and equipment, often results in perpetrators having long removed traps and poisons from the crime scene by the time the police arrive.”
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: "Scottish SPCA inspectors are authorised to help all domestic pets, livestock and captive animals under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, which means we can investigate and report suspected cases of cruelty and neglect to the Crown Office. We are the only animal welfare charity in the UK with this status.
"This consultation seeks views on whether our powers to investigate wildlife crimes should be extended.
"If powers are granted, 60 trained Scottish SPCA inspectors throughout Scotland would be able to assist the Scottish government in its commitment to tackle wildlife crime. This would complement work on wildlife crime carried out by Police Scotland."
Over the past five years, the Scottish SPCA was involved in 37 investigations that ended in convictions. Twenty-three of those were carried out using evidence from the SPCA alone.
RSPCA has no such powers
A spokesperson for the RSPCA said: "Unlike the RSPCA, the SSPCA has statutory powers such as the ability to execute warrants, seize animals and enter property. This move would simply be an extension of those powers.
"The RSPCA have no such statutory powers in England and Wales, and instead work alongside the police - who do have the legal power to carry out warrants and seize animals. We have made no such application for an extension of our powers and have an excellent working relationship with the police's specialist wildlife crime officers."