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OPERATION WINGSPAN: Police Crackdown on wilderness crime

A yearlong campaign to prevent wildlife crime is now reaching its conclusion, finding ‘considerable success’ in deterring poaching and other rural crimes across Scotland.

Operation Wingspan is a collaboration of multiple organisations such as the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland and involves officers working on the persecution of crimes such as hare coursing.

The agricultural community, ranger services, land managers and gamekeepers have also played their part in educating the public and encouraging them to report incidences of wildlife crime to Police Scotland.

Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime Co-Ordinator, Detective Sergeant Billy Telford, said:

“We have many internationally renowned species that attract thousands of nature lovers and tourists every year to Scotland, but many crimes against wildlife are cruel and barbaric, often involving a painful death.

“From hunting deer, hares or badgers with dogs, to using poisons or snares on protected birds, and protecting one of our lesser-known species, the critically endangers freshwater pearl mussel, Operation Wingspan is raising awareness and hopefully encouraging people to come forward and report this kind of crime.”

Due to the scale of potential risks, since starting in October 2020, Operation Wingspan worked in several phases to target the problem effectively.

Phase One involved officers visiting establishments such as antique dealers, pet shops and retro shops across Scotland to advise business owners on the trade of endangered species under The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (COTES) 2018 regulations. This phase resulted in the seizure and recovery of alligator heads from across the country.

Phase Two focused on badger persecution and work with charity Scottish Badgers.

Phase Three saw officers highlight to developers their responsibilities and the offences that can arise in destroying or damaging bat sanctuaries.

Phase Four focused on raptor persecution in which officers patrolled nesting sites and created a social media campaign and educational video in conjunction with the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, RSPB.

Detective Chief Superintendent Laura McLuckie said:

“Reports of wildlife crime doubled during lockdown and Police Scotland is dedicated to working 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.

“Tackling wildlife crime is not just about enforcement, it is also about working with partners and raising public awareness to prevent it happening.

“Indeed, the public has an important role in helping up to investigate reports of wildlife crime and I would urge anyone with concerns or who suspect a wildlife crime has been committed to contact us on 101, and if it is an emergency to call 999.”

For more information on wildlife crime, please visit: https://www.scotland.police.uk/wildlifecrime

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