A rise in wildlife crime in Scotland has sparked calls to have all rural crimes recorded separately.

Newly published figures from the Scottish government show that wildlife offences increased by 6% - from 1440 offences to 1524 offences – from the previous year.

Since 2019, the figure has surged by 28%.

Wildlife crime describes the illegal theft or harming of animals, plants and habitats, either in rural or urban areas.

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Examples of wildlife crime include the persecution of birds of prey, badgers and bats; poaching of fish or deer; coursing hare with dogs; freshwater pearl mussel fishing; and the illegal trade in endangered species.

Environmental offences, which include illegal discharges into water and the illegal disposal of waste increased by 14% compared to the previous year from 433 to 492 offences, but decreased by 12% from the year ending December 2019 from 561 to 492 offences.

Scottish Tory rural affairs spokesperson Rachael Hamilton pointed to a drop in police numbers.

She said: “It is deeply alarming to see such a sharp rise in wildlife crime. With police resources overstretched due to the lowest officer numbers since 2008, the force often simply doesn’t have the resources to clamp down on these crimes in rural Scotland.

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“The economic and social implications of these crimes have a devastating impact on those affected and often go underreported.

“If we are to truly understand the crimes taking place in rural and remote Scotland, then measures should be explored to highlight these separately within the police’s overall crime figures.”

Other statistics include a 5% increase in theft from lock-fast places to 1349, theft of motor vehicles increased by 9% to 5438 and housebreaking increased by 9% to 9300 incidents.

The wildlife crime annual report is a requirement of Section 20 of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, which inserted a new Section 26B into the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

It prescribes that ministers must lay a report every calendar year on offences which relate to wildlife, including information on incidences and prosecutions during the year to which the report relates, and on research and advice relevant to those offences.

To report a wildlife crime you can phone the non-emergency 101 number.