The Animals and Wildlife Bill

By Kenneth Gibson, MSP for Cunninghame North

On 17 June I was pleased to vote in favour of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill.

Acting to stop animal cruelty is important to many people and I received hundreds of emails from constituents urging me to support specific amendments to the Bill.

A key feature of the Bill is the increased penalties for the worst types of animal cruelty and ‘Finn’s Law,’ which protects service animals such as police dogs and horses.

The Bill increases the maximum penalty for the most serious animal and wildlife crimes to five years imprisonment and an unlimited fine. Rightly, animal rights organisations have long campaigned for this.

During the debate, I voted to ban the unlicensed culling of mountain hares and make them a protected species, which only the Tories and one Lib Dem opposed. Many constituents had contacted me, passionately in support of this. I agreed and, having responded to each one, I thank them again for taking the time to contact me.

It is worth noting that unlike other UK nations, Scotland had already acted against hare culling, by having a closed season for both brown and mountain hares. It is within that context that in 2017 the SNP Government commissioned an independent group to ascertain if further regulation of mountain hares was required. Scottish Ministers then gave careful consideration to the recommendations alongside other evidence and consulted on the findings.

The Bill also updated the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 increased the maximum penalties for interfering with or damaging a badger sett and bringing them into line with new penalties for harming a badger directly.

The Bill enhanced the conservation and welfare of seals by removing specific grounds on which licences for the killing or taking of seals may be granted under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. It also increased the penalties for killing, injuring or taking a live seal intentionally or recklessly, in line with other serious wildlife offences.

Back in 2014, I successfully lobbied ministerial colleagues to establish a South Arran Marine Protected Area (MPA). It was the only MPA proposed and developed entirely by a local community group, the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), which worked closely with scientists and government agencies. I was therefore pleased to vote to strengthen maximum penalties for offences against marine species, including killing dolphins, seals and basking sharks in MPAs.

The SNP Government is improving scrutiny of MPA activity to ensure good management, not least through remote electronic monitoring which all of Scotland’s scallop fishing vessels voluntarily signed up to. This will make a huge difference to inshore fisheries management and the safeguarding of MPAs.

In May 2009, backed by the SNP Government, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Forestry and Land Scotland and Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, released the first wild beavers in Scotland for over 400 years.

Eurasian beavers are native to Scotland but were hunted to extinction in the 16th Century. They are natural engineers, with an incredible ability to create new wetlands, restore native woodland and improve conditions for a wide range of species including dragonflies, otters and fish.

Beavers also boost wildlife tourism and have attracted visitors from around the world, bringing social and economic benefits. They are now protected and their return demonstrates the SNP Government’s commitment to protect and enhance biodiversity. It is now illegal to kill beavers without a licence from Scottish Natural Heritage. However, lethal control would only be permitted in exceptional circumstances, such as the animals spreading disease.

I am delighted that this Bill will lead to improved protection of both animals and wildlife across Scotland.