POLICE SCOTLAND officers have visited more than 300 businesses in the first phase of a year-long campaign to tackle wildlife crime in Scotland.

This is all part of Operation Wingspan, a 12-month campaign focussing on the seven wildlife crime priorities set by the UK Wildlife Crime Tasking and Co-ordination Group and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

A top priority is tackling badger persecution, with the charity Scottish Badgers working with Police Scotland to support officer training and in the identification and protection of vulnerable sites.

The campaign, delivered through a mixture of operational policing activity, internal training, partnership working and action to raise public awareness, will also focus on bats, freshwater pearl mussels, game species poaching; and raptor persecution.

Detective Chief Superintendent Gary Cunningham commented: “Scotland’s vast, beautiful habitat is home to internationally renowned species that attract thousands of nature lovers and tourists every year. However, there are those who seek to either destroy this natural habitat or kill protected species illegally for their own personal gain or even ‘sport’.

“Crimes committed against wildlife are often cruel and barbaric, from using poisons or snares to hunting deer or badgers with dogs – the injuries they inflict can often result in slow, painful deaths.

“Reports of wildlife crime doubled during lockdown. Increased reporting is to be welcomed but we will continue to work 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.”

Alan Roberts from the National Wildlife Crime Unit added: "The work done so far under Operation Wingspan has undoubtedly raised awareness of wildlife law within Scotland as well as contributing to investigations and enforcement activity on a much broader scale. It is likely to make a wide-ranging and long-lasting contribution to the UK's work to combat wildlife crime."

A spokesperson from Scottish Badgers said: “Every year at Scottish Badgers we receive a high volume of enquiries from members of the public with concerns about badger crime, and not knowing what constitutes as one. Badgers and their setts have legal protection, and it is an offence to cause damage or disturbance in any way to both. In the case of any obvious crime, the Police should be notified at the first instance, however if there’s any uncertainty you can get in touch with Scottish Badgers to discuss and for advice.”