Offenders deliberately destroying birds’ nests, damaging breeding sites and “harassing” birds of prey could face longer jail sentences after the Scottish Government indicated more animal welfare crimes may face the maximum penalties.
Holyrood’s Environment Committee backed proposals to make possession of illegal pesticide subject to potentially-unlimited fines and up to five years in prison and to also include legal protection for bees.
Rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon also committed to working on an amendment that would see the intentional destruction of birds’ nests, eggs and badger setts included in the category subject to the highest level of punishments.
The Scottish Greens have accused the minister of potentially “dithering” over plans to give the Scottish SPCA more powers to investigate wildlife crime after she argued the proposal should be considered by a taskforce despite having the committee’s backing.
MSPs were considering amendments to the Scottish Government’s Animal and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill at its second stage.
The proposed legislation increases the penalties for the worst animal welfare crimes, would enable emergency rehoming of pets and introduce Finn’s Law – named after a police dog stabbed while trying to protect his handler – into legislation to protect service animals.
Arguing for her proposal to give increased legal protection for habitats and nesting sites, Scottish Labour’s Claudia Beamish said it was “vital” for unlimited fines due to cases where the cost for land developers to safely relocate animals or their breeding sites was higher than the fines received for destroying them.
Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell also put forward proposals to protect badger setts from destruction, suggestion it be done alongside making landowners vicariously liable for damage on their property.
“We need to ensure that these penalties are in line with other offences,” he said.
“Some of the landowners, some of those who are responsible for sett destruction are particularly wealthy – we’re talking about commercial interests, corporate interest.
“Even if we can get a conviction, the levels of fines that are attributed to sett destruction are so low that in many cases they would barely register on a business’ balance sheet.
“So we need to increase these penalties and vicarious liability in order to bring an end to the destruction of badger setts that is happening across Scotland at the moment.”
Gougeon said she had “listened to the concerns raised” by the committee over the destruction of habitats, but called for the amendments on badger setts and nesting sites to be withdrawn so she could “work with [Scottish Labour and Scottish Greens] on the possibility of an amendment at stage three”.
Following the meeting, Ruskell said: “It was very frustrating to see the minister put off committing to meaningful amendments until stage three of this Bill.
“There will now be a big test when it comes to the chamber to see if this Bill will meet its potential.
“It has been 14 years since the last animal protection bill in the Scottish Parliament, Scotland’s wildlife can’t wait another 14 years before they get more protection, through giving the SSPCA more powers and making landowners liable for the destruction of badger sets.”