HARE COURSING should be given higher priority in Scotland's efforts to curb wildlife crime, North-east MSP Peter Chapman has claimed.

The Scottish Conservative said that official figures for poaching and hare coursing in the north of Scotland were at an 'all-time high', demonstrating that the problem warranted more official attention than it was getting.

A total of 1350 offences wildlife were recorded by Police Scotland over the past five years, leading to 533 reports to the Procurator Fiscal. But Mr Chapman noted that there were only 186 convictions over that time.

Some 156 were offered an alternative to prosecution and no action was taken in another 156 cases – alternatives include fiscal fines, warning letters, or referral to the Children’s Panel.

Mr Chapman slammed the SNP for treating the hare coursing as an 'afterthought' compared to its other wildlife priorities: “The figures on hare coursing and salmon poaching are proof that these crimes should be a focus area for the SNP’s environmental policy.

“These activities, particularly hunting with dogs, are often linked to wider criminality. I believe the numbers reported here are only an indication of what’s going on in the North-east and neighbouring police areas.

“In many cases, we see offenders given a slap on the wrist or their prosecutions are abandoned due to insufficient evidence. There is a much lower conviction rate for these crimes than the SNP's current focus areas."