MSPs will be told next week that not enough is being done to combat the illegal practice of badger baiting by criminal gangs in Scotland.
The warning is being issued by animal protection charity Scottish Badgers, which says the police can be slow to investigate, there is a lack of awareness among some call handlers that harming the animals or disturbing their setts is a crime, and that there are not enough specialist officers.
Badger baiting involves the animals being dug out of their burrows and then set upon by dogs in organised fights. It dates back to medieval times when it was used as a form of public entertainment and has been banned since the mid-nineteenth century.
The animals are one of Scotland’s most easily recognised native omnivores and have protected status under wildlife laws.
In a strongly worded submission to a Holyrood committee meeting next Tuesday, Scottish Badgers, which was set up in 1999 with support from the Scottish Government, warns of a rise in the number of cases.
It is also concerned it can take weeks for police to launch an investigation and not enough is being done to prosecute cases.
“Call centres haven’t always recognised badger crime for what it is – crime. A police investigation needs to be timely because evidence on the ground deteriorates or is removed – yet there are often delays of days or even weeks,” the charity writes.
“Wildlife Crime Officers (WCLOs) are usually very efficient, courteous, skilled, helpful and conscientious. However, experienced WCLOs are not made available as speedily or in the numbers needed.
“Frustratingly, after an investigation at a crime scene, with statements by our own members, badger crimes often do not progress to the next stage. Allied to this, the time span of decision-making can be very long – eg six, nine, 12 months – when valuable volunteer time is consumed chasing police officers for up-to-date reports.
“It is highly significant that in recent years none of the cases we have been involved in have progressed to the Procurator Fiscal. We would seek greater transparency in understanding how this situation can be improved.”
The charity will also tell MSPs, who are meeting to discuss the Government’s latest annual Wildlife Crime in Scotland Report, that the crimes are being under recorded by the police.
“Badgers are subject to increasing persecution,” it warns.
“Generally there are two categories: the deliberate digging of badger setts to obtain badgers for baiting with dogs, which is often associated with other forms of serious and organised crime such as drug dealing and domestic violence.
“The other wider category is mainly unintended ‘mistakes’ by development, forestry and agriculture; however, badgers are also regularly subjected to deliberate persecution such as poisoning, gassing, snaring, drowning with slurry, suffocation, when setts are blocked, and crushing, when setts are destroyed.”
It added: “The level of cruelty meted out to badgers by perpetrators is unparalleled in any other form of wildlife crime.”
The charity says it has identified 134 offences between 2012 and 2015, while only three people were prosecuted from the 12 offences investigated.
“We come across many instances of disturbance to badger setts, and this is one reason the figures quoted in the Government’s report cause us concern,” it adds.
“The report seems to suggest that badger crime hardly occurs in Scotland. The very small single figure numbers in the tables … do not reflect the many instances of disturbed setts and other incidents that we and members of the public come across.”
The Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which strengthened previous legislation, makes it unlawful to kill, injure or take a badger, or to damage or interfere with a sett. The law applies to baiters or anyone else disturbing the animals.
Detective Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, head of wildlife crime at Police Scotland, who will be among the experts at Tuesday’s meeting, said the force was committed to investigating wildlife crime.
“Our detection rate is increasing but investigations into wildlife crime can be difficult and prolonged and the areas covered can be vast and remote,” he added.
“All allegations are fully investigated, utilising specialist resources where necessary, and reports are submitted to the Procurator Fiscal in due course.
“Police Scotland has a network of dedicated wildlife crime officers across the country with extensive experience.”
A Crown Office spokesman said that consideration is given to any reports of alleged criminal conduct that are submitted by the police, or any other specialist reporting agency, to the Procurator Fiscal and proceedings raised if there is sufficient evidence to warrant action.