The number of recorded wildlife crimes in Scotland has increased slightly for the first time in three years.
The Wildlife Crime in Scotland 2018 Annual Report shows that 236 offences relating to wildlife were recorded by Police Scotland in 2017/18, five more than in 2016/17.
The increase is partly due to the number of bird of prey persecutions increasing from 11 to 24, with one incident accounting for almost half of this number.
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “After falls in recorded wildlife crimes in recent years, it is disappointing to see a small increase this year.
“This report highlights why it is important we put measures in place to protect Scotland’s natural heritage.
“We have already taken action to end to this type of crime, including commissioning a review of golden eagle disappearances, strengthening the resources available to law enforcement and establishing the specialist wildlife and environmental crime prosecution unit.
“It is important we continue to safeguard our wildlife which is why those who commit the most serious wildlife crimes will face increased penalties through the introduction of the Animals and Wildlife Bill next year.”
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association described the slight rise in recorded crimes this year as disappointing.
The association has expelled eight members in the last seven years for wildlife crimes, and has vowed to continue to work with Police Scotland and Scottish Government to see these offences reduced once again in Scotland.
Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman Alex Hogg said: “The new penalties about to be introduced by Scottish Government, including jail sentences up to five years, will be a game changer.
“This takes wildlife crime into the ‘serious crime’ category for the first time ever and Police Scotland has already said this will be enormously helpful to them in prioritisation and giving them new tools and options which have not been at their disposal until now.”
This is the seventh year the Scottish Government has published a Wildlife Crime in Scotland Annual Report.
The number of wildlife crimes recorded by Police Scotland in 2014/15 was 284. This decreased to 261 in 2015/16 and 231 in 2016/17.