Report from Chris Smith
This morning, Environment Minister Sarah Boyack addresses the Scottish Police Wildlife Liaison Officers' annual conference. Amid growing concern for wild animals and birds, this little-known branch of the Scottish police service is staking its own place in the front line of justice. Nic Outterside reports.
Saving badgers, bats, lizards and tigers may have little in common with catching muggers, rapists, murderers or even drink-drivers, but it forms part of the diverse duties of the modern Scottish police force.
In fact the duties are so diverse that full-time specialist officers now police the jungle of the wildlife beat.
On that beat they ensnare egg collectors, save pipistrelle bats, intercept smugglers of tiger bones and log sightings of alien big cats.
Their duties in an ever-changing world receive acclaim today when Environment Minister Sarah Boyack gives the opening address to the Scottish Police Wildlife Liaison Officers' annual conference at the police training college at Tulliallan, near Alloa.
Ironically the conference takes place a day after the carcase of one of a pair of nesting sparrowhawks was found riddled with shotgun lead.
Police are now hunting for the gunman who shot the bird out of the air near St Johnstone FC's ground in Perth.
Tayside Police wildlife liaison officer Neil Macdonald said the killing was a matter of great concern.
As well as targeting a protected species and splitting a breeding pair of birds, he said he was worried about a shotgun being used near a populated area.
Wildlife liaison officers (WLOs) are police officers who have an interest in the prevention and detection of wildlife crime.
They work in close association with other organisations such as the SSPCA, RSPCA, RSPB, WWF, Scottish Environment Protection Agency and local wildlife trusts, in the investigation and prosecution of offenders.
Wildlife crime takes many forms, from the organised crimes of badger baiting, deer poaching, dog fighting to the shooting of wild birds, illegal trapping and collection of birds' eggs.
Among the more diverse duties of the WLO is liaison with Customs officers and international agencies to stop the importation of body parts of endangered Siberian and Bengal tigers.
The tiger's teeth and penis are used in Asian medicine, which is growing in popularity in alternative Western cultures.
There are many pieces of legislation protecting wildlife.
It is the responsibility of police wildlife liaison officers to prosecute people who ignore the law and to act as a focal point for information and inquiries from the public.
They are increasingly involved in the training of other police officers and provide them with a reference point for law inquiries.
More than 200 people attended the 11th UK Police Wildlife Liaison Officers' conference in October last year. Scotland's annual PWLO conference in February each year gives the opportunity for police officers and others involved in wildlife law enforcement to discuss issues of concern.
Alan Stewart, one of this year's conference organisers and Tayside Police wildlife liaison co-ordinator, said: "This conference is another example of police forces throughout Scotland working in partnership with others in a multi-agency approach to tackling crimes against wildlife and raise awareness of the environment."
Mr Stewart and his three fellow WLOs on Tayside are among 600 people UK-wide responsible for fighting wildlife crime.
In Tayside, recent crimes which the team have had to crack include the poisoning of a golden eagle and three buzzards, the shooting of a buzzard, and illegal deer snaring.
They have also helped log and follow up sightings of so-called alien big cats, such as pumas, in the Angus area.
Mr Stewart said: "While our own wildlife problems in Tayside often involve shooting, trapping or poisoning of birds and animals, we are making substantial reductions in these.
"Wildlife crime of course is worldwide.
"Endangered species, such as certain parrots and reptiles, or parts of species such as tigers and bears, could be being brought into or traded in Tayside."
This year's Scottish police WLO conference also comes just a week after two men pleaded guilty at Fort William Sheriff Court to stealing 29 eggs from some of the rarest birds in Britain.
Paul Sly and Philip Beard, both of Coventry in the West Midlands, admitted the theft of 21 common scoter eggs and eight red-breasted merganser eggs.
The court action followed an operation by the wildlife intelligence cell at Tayside Police after they were tipped off by counterparts in England.
Tayside WLO Sergeant Gordon Nicoll and RSPB investigator David Dick undertook a 20-mile hunt across rough terrain in Lochaber to intercept the egg thieves.
Meanwhile, the area covered by Grampian Police is the habitat for many rare flora and fauna.
However, many species, particularly birds of prey, are persecuted by illegal shooting, trapping or poisoning because it is perceived they threaten young game birds. Even swans and herons become victims.
Grampian Police have four WLOs who investigate wildlife crime.
Along with their other duties they are responsible for liaising with wildlife agencies, providing advice on wildlife law and giving lectures and talks to police officers and other interested groups.
Last year, the Press and Journal backed a successful police campaign Operation Falcon to crack down on the theft of eggs from the nests of protected birds of prey.
Scottish Natural Heritage, Grampian Police and local gamekeepers joined a local raptor study group to watch eight peregrine falcon and hen harrier nests in secret locations throughout the North-east.
A year earlier, 14 peregrine nesting sites failed to raise any young.
The WLO-led operation allowed falcons to successfully fledge from a number of nests.
Grampian Police WLO Sergeant Roddy McInnes said the campaign had caught the imagination of local people.
The Scottish WLO forms part of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (Paw).
Joint chairman Mick Brewer, Deputy Chief Constable of Warwickshire Constabulary, believes Paw is growing in stature.
"A legal group within Paw keeps wildlife enforcement legislation under review," he said.
"It welcomes views on whether the law is effective and achieves its purpose. It keeps abreast of significant cases and decisions, disseminating information about them to law enforcers."
Paw, which was launched in November, 1995, comprises all the key agencies involved in the prevention of wildlife crime and includes representatives from the Scottish police service, the Crown Office, the Scottish Executive, Scottish Natural Heritage and its English equivalents, other statutory agencies and voluntary organisations.
In addition to providing a strategic overview of wildlife law enforcement activity, the partnership has considered a number of initiatives including: strengthening the enforcement provisions of wildlife legislation; applying DNA analysis and other forensic techniques to aid wildlife investigations; and improving the scope for sharing information and intelligence.
A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said: "Regrettably, wildlife crime involving birds, animals and plants is still occurring throughout Scotland.
"We are committed to supporting the efforts of the police, HM Customs and other agencies involved in wildlife law enforcement."
23 rd February 2000
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