Wildlife crime has increased in Scotland by more than 10% over the past year, according to new statistics released by the Scottish Government.
Ministers described the rise detailed in the annual wildlife crime report as “frustrating”.
According to published figures, there were 196 incidents in 2020, compared to 171 the previous year, an increase of 13%.
This is in stark contrast to 2018 and 2019, where it fell over 60%.
While bird crimes fell 22% – from 46 to 36 – there was an increase in cruelty to wildlife, deer offenses and fish poaching.
However, the biggest increase was hunting with dogs – mostly related to hare or deer hunting – which went from 22 incidents to 36 incidents, an increase of 63%.
The report details the case of a man fined £1,000 after pleading guilty to ‘setting a dog to chase and kill two brown hares in breach of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981’.
Other notable cases include an individual caught with a dinghy, ropes and hooks who was fined £200 after “being found in circumstances suggesting the fish were caught by means other than pole and line or at the line”.
Another person has been fined £1,000 for willfully damaging and destroying a bat nesting or breeding site when demolishing a building.
While someone who pleaded guilty to shooting and killing a sparrowhawk was fined £450.
The highest number of wildlife offenses in 2019-20 was recorded in the North East, followed by Highland & Islands and Lothians & Scottish Borders.
Almost half of all bird offenses have been recorded in Dumfries & Galloway.
Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said: She added: ‘Wildlife crime is not only heinous, it is also completely at odds with our work to tackle the biodiversity crisis, which is supported by so many people and organizations across Scotland.”
Commenting on the report, Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg said: “It is always disappointing to see cases rise, particularly after years of steady cuts.
“The figures released today are for 2020, with official reports falling behind.
“We understand that the 2021 figures, when released, will show that cases will fall again.
“It’s reassuring because no one wants an upward trend to set in. There has been a lot of progress, including tough action by the Scottish Government. No one wants to see progress derailed.
There was a disagreement between game wardens and the government over proposals to ban snaring.
Although the number of trapping-related prosecutions has decreased since the previous review, the numbers reported to the SSPCA remain relatively high.
The Scottish Government is considering whether the use of traps should be banned.
However, Mr Hogg said the snare remains an important tool for professional fox management in Scotland.
He said the cases where a crime has occurred involving someone trained to operate collars, and who has an identification tag on their Police Scotland collars, are “few and certainly extremely rare compared to most types of crimes dealt with by the police”.