Poaching is an acquisitive crime. It is the taking of game without the permission of the owner of the land on which the game is found, or the fishing rights on a river or loch. 'Game' might include salmon, trout, pheasants, partridges, hares, rabbits or deer.
Deer poaching is by far the most common and is unfortunately increasing. Methods of taking the game vary and are cruel or unsporting, such as shooting a deer with an unsuitable calibre of rifle, catching it in an illegally set snare or taking a salmon by intentionally embedding a large treble hook in its side.
There are many examples of deer having been shot near the roadside by poachers and later found injured or dead by gamekeepers. In one case in Perthshire a rare white fallow buck was shot and fatally injured with a .22 rifle and was found some days later half a mile from the roadside. It is likely that it had been shot so that the head and antlers could be taken as a trophy for mounting, though the poachers had not managed to locate it. In the Northern Constabulary area a red deer hind was found, still alive with a crossbow bolt through its back just under the spine.
Poaching, hare coursing, badger digging and dog fighting are often interlinked. In some cases the criminals involved snare deer so that they can have a free food supply for their dogs.
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Deer stalking, game shooting and fishing for trout and salmon is a multi-million pound industry in Scotland. The revenue from the management of these species for sporting purposes, which includes assistance for paying guests to 'bag' a stag, a salmon or a brace of grouse, and the spin-off benefits to hotels, guest houses and shops in Scotland is considerable. BASC estimate that the equivalent of 11,000 full-time jobs is supported by shooting and stalking in Scotland. Wild game belongs to no-one and is indeed 'wild'. However the right to take game on his or her land belongs to the landowner.
In the 21st century the economic benefit to the community and the protection of rural jobs are vital. It is important for the economy that game is not spirited away by poachers; equally important is that it is taken cleanly and in a sporting fashion by professionals, whether stalkers, gamekeepers or anglers.
The days of poachers taking 'one for the pot' are long gone, and modern-day poachers are always ready to take advantage of a valuable commodity that is easily obtained. Profit is the objective and the poachers frequently leave behind dead or injured animals. There are many examples of deer with legs shattered by a poacher's bullet, female deer taken and leaving behind fawns or calves doomed to starve to death or salmon floating downstream after a poacher has poured a pesticide into a salmon river. The pesticide kills all the fish in the river; far more than the poacher can recover.
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Legislation from as far back as 1770 is still in place to prevent game being taken by poachers. Arguably the purpose of these archaic game laws was to protect the game for the 'lord of the manor.' It is interesting that powers under many of the Acts remain delegated to landowners and their staff. Deer, salmon and other game are protected by a variety of Acts, the most recent legislation being the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003. This more modern legislation not only gives protection to freshwater fish but also to their habitat.
The basis of the poaching legislation is that game in it wider sense cannot be taken without lawful authority or written permission. Though technically the landowner is not the owner of the game while it is wild and free, the principle is that for poachers to take the game is a form of theft. The Scottish Government is in the process of consulting on updating and improving all of the legislation relating to the sale of and the poaching of game.
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- If you see poaching taking place contact the police immediately
- Note a description of the persons involved
- Note a vehicle registration number (and double-check this if possible; it is amazing how often the number is noted wrongly in the heat of the moment)
- If the persons have firearms ensure this information is given to the police when the incident is reported
- If you are aware of anyone who is involved in poaching or who is buying poached game tell your local police wildlife crime officer
- Don't tackle the poachers though if you have the opportunity have a good look at them as you may be shown photographs of suspects later by the police
- Don't go trampling over ground where the poachers have been; you may be destroying evidence.
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