On the wild side

I recently e-mailed Ruaraidh Hamilton from the Lothian and Borders Police who is the wildlife crime co-ordinator to see if I could attend the wildlife crime seminar held this month at the Scottish Borders College Campus in Galashiels.

On arriving, there were refreshments and biscuits, over 160 people attended. I was representing myself with my interests with the RSPB, the SWT, SOC (Scottish Ornithologists Club), and TVOP (Tweed Valley Osprey Project). There were a number of lecturers on subjects ranging from criminal activities such as poaching, badger baiting, hare coursing and illegal activities of egg collectors, persecution of raptors (illegal killing of birds of prey) etc.

The welcome and introduction was by Superintendant Andrew Allan, who talked on the responsibility of the land owner and his employees ranging through game keepers, tractor drivers and everyone else in the business, that, if a crime was committed against protected wildlife, if the perpetrator could not be identified, then the landowner would be held responsible for the criminal actions committed and possible convictions in a court of law.

Dr Ben Ross from Scottish National Heritage spoke on different licences for employees to work in the countryside, varying from snare setting certificates through to standard vermin control approvals.

Kenny Willmitt from BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation) gave a lecture on general licenses and the new legislation, due into force which makes it illegal to set any snare without an identification number after April 1, 2013. This identification number is required on every snare set and can be traced only to one person.

Then we had a short break where everybody left the theatre and congregated in the foyer when I discovered I was standing in the middle of over 100 gamekeepers, ghillies, water bailiffs, factors, farm managers and landowners who all seemed to be very friendly and polite, but didn’t say much to me as all the badges I was wearing and my ID seemed to put them off a tad.

One guy I knew who worked for the Forestry Commission asked me how the osprey project at Kailzie gardens was doing. I met him two years ago as we were ringing the osprey young in the Tweed valley area.

We then resumed the meeting with a talk from PC Alan Trimby from the firearms department who gave a lengthy talk on who can apply for a shotgun licence and a firearms certificate. He advised that people with these licences that were found to be breaking the law could lose said licences and that the impact on their future employment potential could be considerable.

The final talk of the night was PC Brian Lile, Rural Security to the Community Safety Department and he provided data of recent crimes in the countryside and how much it has rocketed in recent years, partially because of the recession and the high price of fuel and heating oil. The theft of these two items particularly has soared all over Scotland and the Lothian and Border regions especially.

Other items stolen included quad bikes, scrap metal and yes, rustling, mainly sheep and a few cases of cattle, but even horses!

There was a demonstration on various security devices from simple locks to high tech tracking devices that, if say a quad, was stolen, then a satellite could pin point the exact location of the vehicle, and devices that fit inside storage tanks, e.g. heating oil or diesel that, if the level starts to drop dramatically, a text message is sent straight to the owner that the tank is being emptied.

All in all a very interesting evening

ANDREW MITCHELL