Sharing Good Practice event on Forest and Wildlife Crime – Awareness, Prevention and Enforcement by Annie Robinson

SNH Battleby – Wednesday 9 October 2019

There was a full house and a wide representation of organisations attending the Sharing Good Practice event on Forest and Wildlife Crime – Awareness, Prevention and Enforcement from those working in forest management in the public, private and third sectors, as well as wildlife crime officers and those working in wildlife management.

The day started with PC Charles Everitt, UK National Wildlife Crime Unit, setting the scene on wildlife protection law. Charles evoked childhood memories of time spent in the woods, before introducing attendees to types of environmental damage that happen in woodlands and the extensive range of acts covering wildlife crime. Post felling, for example: if a Wildlife Crime Officer is called, they will check felling permission and wildlife disturbance licences, as well as the preservation of evidence. The Wildlife Crime Officer will consider whether licences are required, whether contractors are aware of the need for them, which wildlife surveys have been undertaken, whether any are out of date, what due diligence has been done and will ascertain who is responsible if there are any breaches of the licensing procedure.

Beccy Osborn MCIEEM, of Direct Ecology, spoke next, covering surveying for protected species. She outlined why you might need to survey: tree felling, thinning, forest disease control, new planting, building demolition, new access tracks or paths and invasive species control. The key offences are to intentionally or recklessly: kill, injure, capture or disturb a protected species in a resting-up site and damage, destroy or obstruct access to a resting-up site. Claims the offence was incidental will not be tolerated. Beccy then led the audience through some of the key protected species and what needs to be considered when dealing with each. For example:

  • Multiple species of bats use many of the structures and buildings within woodlands at different times of the year, so need to be surveyed for at the right time of year.
  • Otters can be surveyed at any time.
  • Wildcats are tricky to survey full stop and it’s also difficult to establish a level of hybridisation.
  • Beavers are increasing their range and signs can be quite apparent.
  • Great crested newt can be found in forestry ponds and surrounding habitats – at least 500m away – and surveying must be done in spring and early summer.
  • Pine martens can be present in tree holes, windblow, rocky areas and other mammal holes.
  • Water voles can be present in forestry areas, especially open rides and peaty burns.
  • Freshwater pearl mussels are very sensitive to silt run-off, which can result from new forestry tracks and extraction.
  • For badgers, although a lot of badger setts are obvious, outlier setts are less obvious and in rocky upland areas can sometimes be missed.

The key message was that it is crucial to plan ahead to ensure correct survey timings and to make sure surveyors are appropriately trained.

Colin Edwards, Scottish Forestry and Graeme Taylor, SNH, were next up, covering operational guidance, including felling permissions and species licensing. Colin clarified the work areas that Forestry and Land Scotland and Scottish Forestry now cover: SF is the Scottish Government agency responsible for forestry policy, support and regulations, while FLS is the Scottish Government agency responsible for managing our national forests and land. Modern forestry practice has developed to mitigate environmental risks and it is important that the sector maintains and develops these practices. With ambitious tree planting targets needing to be realised is it important that best practice is followed. This is identified in the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS): the national reference standard for managing our forests to meet needs now without hindering future generations from meeting theirs. Last year 11,210 hectares of new planting took place in Scotland of which 40% was native woodland and 60% coniferous woodland. Additionally, there was 11,190 hectares of publicly funded restocking. This figure represents only the area that received grant aid or that was delivered by Forestry and Land Scotland. Not all private sector restocking receives grant aid, so the reported figure does not represent the total area of restocking. More information and guidance can be found here.

Graeme Taylor went on to explain that SNH issues around 2,500 licenses each year which include protected species licensing to enable forestry works and operations. The licensing process covers application, assessment, consultation, site visits, granting, returns and compliance monitoring of licences. A new online system for licensing will be launched in 2020 which will make both the process of application process and assessment by SNH more efficient.

Currently SNH aim to review applications and issue licences (where appropriate) in 10 days but the average turnaround length of time is 17 days. The lack of justification and supporting information by the applicant is major factor leading to delays in processing of licences by SNH.   Forward planning is required prior to submission of licence applications and time needs to be allocated for survey work to be conducted. For survey work it is best to use ecologists with local knowledge, preferably those registered with CIEEM. It is best to make contact with SNH early on in the process.

After the panel discussion, delegates had the opportunity to attend three of the below sessions:

  • Afforestation Due Diligence Prior to and During the Creation of New Woodlands – Colin Edwards, Scottish Forestry
  • Protected Mammals – Survey, Mitigation and Offences – Beccy Osborn, Direct Ecology and Graeme Taylor, SNH
  • Felling Permissions – Gareth Phillips, Scottish Forestry
  • Protecting Birds in Our Forests – Ian Thompson, RSPB Scotland
  • Antisocial Behaviour and Access – Bridget Jones, SNH and PC Charles Everitt, NWCU
  • Poaching and Deer Management – Alastair MacGugan, SNH and Doug Darling, Police Scotland

After the workshops there was a quick synopsis from the workshop leads.

Afforestation Due Diligence Prior to and During the Creation of New Woodlands – Colin Edwards, Scottish Forestry
It was felt that there was a need to simplify and improve guidance documents further as well as filling in any gaps where guidance is currently lacking. The flow chart concept was deemed to work well in the field and delegates were invited to send in any feedback about the development of the guidance documents.

Protected Mammals – Survey, Mitigation and Offences – Beccy Osborn, Direct Ecology and Graeme Taylor, SNH
The feeling was that people are trying hard to comply with licensing and a lot of work is ongoing with species protection plans, methods statements and licence conditions. Good quality survey information needs to be provided to the SNH licensing team as otherwise the precautionary principle must override. The studies carried out by Forestry and Land Scotland of radio-tagged squirrels in relation to thinning operations was highlighted and there were discussions about the practicalities and reliability of surveying for squirrel dreys over vast areas of woodland. The next stage will look at felling operations and the impact on squirrel distribution. The value of having a supervised fell, such as by an Ecological Clerk of Works, to help deal with any issues that arise, was also highlighted. Deer and hare licensing requirements were discussed as well as a possible rating of licence holders, using a bronze, silver, gold scheme.

Felling Permissions – Gareth Phillips, Scottish Forestry
At the workshop on felling permissions the Felling permissions application guide was discussed.

Protecting Birds in Our Forests – Ian Thompson, RSPB Scotland
Three key areas were covered: forest operations, recreation and deliberate targeting. Accidental damage or disturbance from forest operations was felt to largely be as a result of poor planning, ignorance of law, inexperienced surveyors and the key issue of poor communication between “office” and contractors. The importance of surveying at the right time of year was highlighted. Discussions were had about the scale of under-recording of wildlife crime and the difficulties involved in bringing cases to court. There is an increasing issue of birdwatchers and photographers getting too close to protected species for example Capercaillie leks.

Antisocial Behaviour and Access – Bridget Jones, SNH and PC Charles Everitt, NWCU
A joint workshop from SNH and NWCU covered antisocial behaviour and access and a broad range of issues were considered, including mountain biking, fly-tipping and campervan parking issues.

Poaching and Deer Management – Alastair MacGugan, SNH and Doug Darling, Police Scotland
There was discussion on unenclosed vs enclosed woodland, when you can use thermal imaging and crucially, what to do if you observe poaching i.e. when to call 101 and 999 (the latter for ongoing crimes where there is a risk to health or property) https://www.scotland.police.uk/contact-us/report-wildlife-crime

A final wrap up by Claire Glaister, GR Forestry Consultancy, who very ably chaired the day, posed a few topics for consideration:

  • Can we do anything as a sector to speed up the review of some of the existing legislation as new information and technologies come on board?
  • Can we all go away and build on partnership working to help increase awareness, prevention and enforcement of forest and wildlife crime?

A key message that came through from discussions and during the workshops was a need to raise awareness of existing guidance documents, which we have provided throughout this document and below are further links (please note some aspects of these are out of date):

Forest Operations and Wildlife in Scottish Forests

Forest Operations and Birds in Scottish Forests

Forest Operations and Otters in Scotland

Forest Operations and Bats in Scotland

Forest Operations and European Protected Species in Scottish Forests

Forest Operations and Great Crested Newts in Scotland

Forest Operations and Red Squirrels in Scottish Forests

Forest Operations and Wildcats in Scotland

Managing Forests for White-tailed Eagles

The event was run in partnership by Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Forestry, the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit and CIEEM.

By Annie Robinson, CIEEM Project Officer (Scotland)

 

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