Operation Wingspan | A year-long wildlife campaign

In October this year a twelve-month campaign was launched to tackle wildlife crime in Scotland, based on the seven wildlife crime priorities set out by the UK Wildlife Crime Tasking and Co-ordination Group and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

These priorities are:

  • Trade in Endangered Species
  • Badger Persecution
  • Bat Crime
  • Poaching of Freshwater Pearl Mussels
  • Deer poaching/coursing, fish poaching and hare coursing
  • Raptor Persecution
  • and Cyber-enabled wildlife crime

All are extremely damaging to wildlife. In 2016 the UN estimated that the annual value of illegal wildlife trade was as high as $23billion, putting it behind only the drugs trade and human trafficking. Badger persecution – including baiting, illegal development, and sett blocking/destruction – is magnifying the already disastrous impact of the government sanctioned slaughter of badgers on behalf of the dairy trade. All the UK’s bat species are protected by law but developers are still destroying roosts and nurseries. Freshwater Pearl Mussels may seem like a more obscure concern, but this once common mollusc is listed by the IUCN as Endangered and the only viable population left in England is in Cumbria: there are more viable populations in Scotland but these are also under threat of decline. Hare coursing is an enormous problem for a species that is already suffering from huge declines because of agricultural intensification. Raptor persecution is – as anyone reading this site will know all too well – a massive problem on shooting estates, where protected birds including Hen Harriers are routinely eradicated to protect shooting profits. Cyber-enabled wildlife crime, an ‘umbrella’ term for crimes which either take place online or where technology is a means and/or target for the attack, is one of the fastest-growing criminal activities across the world.

A renewed focus on any of these seven will be extremely welcome.

What would be just as welcome, though, would be a huge increase in financial resources for the teams charged with ‘making a difference’. Good intentions are one thing, but if cash-strapped police officers and investigators are simply being asked to re-prioritise existing efforts without an increase in personnel or funding it’s difficult to imagine just how much will change. We will be watching closely over the next twelve months…


Police launch year-long wildlife crime campaign

Officers have visited more than 300 businesses at risk of trading in endangered species, as part of a year-long campaign to tackle wildlife crime in Scotland.

Items including ivory jewellery, fur coats and animal skin handbags were seized on suspicion of being sold illegally.

This action, which started in October, kicked off Operation Wingspan, a 12-month campaign, which will focus on the seven wildlife crime priorities set by the UK Wildlife Crime Tasking and Co-ordination Group and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

During phase 1 of Op Wingspan officers visited premises including antique dealers, retro clothes and pet shops across Scotland, to advise owners and provide information about potential contraventions of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

This activity supported Operation Thunder, an international police and border agencies enforcement operation, coordinated by INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization (WCO), to tackle the Illegal trade in protected and endangered species.

Op Wingspan phase two tackling badger persecution, is running now until end of January 2021. The charity Scottish Badgers will be working with Police Scotland to support officer training and in the identification and protection of vulnerable sites.

Detective Chief Superintendent Gary Cunningham, lead for Wildlife Crime, Police Scotland said: “Most shop owners we visited during this first phase of our campaign recognised their responsibility in preventing the trade in endangered species. While a number of items were seized, these are undergoing tests to establish their legality.

“CITES is one of seven wildlife crime priorities identified in the UK. The others are much closer to home and are about protecting our native species from persecution and helping them thrive unharmed.

“Over the course of the next 10 months we will be focusing on each of the wildlife crime priorities, working with our partners and within local communities to raise awareness, protect wildlife and prevent crime.”

DCS Cunningham added: “Scotland’s vast, beautiful habitat is home to internationally renowned species that attract thousands of nature lovers and tourists every year. However, there are those who seek to either destroy this natural habitat or kill protected species illegally for their own personal gain or even ‘sport’.

“Crimes committed against wildlife are often cruel and barbaric, from using poisons or snares to hunting deer or badgers with dogs – the injuries they inflict can often result in slow, painful deaths.

“Reports of wildlife crime doubled during lockdown. Increased reporting is to be welcomed but we will continue to work closely with a wide range of partner organisations to reduce the harm to species targeted by criminals and the communities who rely on them for employment and tourism across Scotland.”

Alan Roberts from the National Wildlife Crime Unit said: “The work done so far under Operation Wingspan has undoubtedly raised awareness of wildlife law within Scotland as well as contributing to investigations and enforcement activity on a much broader scale. It is likely to make a wide-ranging and long-lasting contribution to the UK’s work to combat wildlife crime.”

A spokesperson from Scottish Badgers said: “Every year at Scottish Badgers we receive a high volume of enquiries from members of the public with concerns about badger crime, and not knowing what constitutes as one. Badgers and their setts have legal protection, and it is an offence to cause damage or disturbance in any way to both.

“In the case of any obvious crime, the Police should be notified at the first instance, however if there’s any uncertainty you can get in touch with Scottish Badgers to discuss and for advice.”

For further information about wildlife crime in Scotland visit www.scotland.police.uk/wildlifecrime

Police Scotland, Police launch year-long wildlife crime campaign, December 2020