WILDLIFE Crime should be tackled by the police - not privately funded charities like the SSPCA.

That is the response of landowner body Scottish Land and Estates (SLaE) to a Scottish Government consultation on who should have powers to search and seize evidence during wildlife crime investigations.

The ScotGov consultation had mooted an extension of the investigatory powers currently available to SSPCA inspectors, raising concern amongst landowners that police functions could be handed over to special interest groups and effectively "privatised".

SLaE chief executive Douglas McAdam said: "On first glance, the proposals laid out in the consultation document may seem like a common-sense way to help the police at low cost. We firmly support much of the work carried out by the SSPCA and we value our partnership with them under the partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland umbrella.

"There are, however, wider implications for the judicial system if their role is expanded. It is our view that this would be problematic, as the SSPCA would have to balance their function as a membership funded and driven charity - with pre-determined stances on certain wildlife issues - with a role of impartial investigator on matters where a crime may have been committed," said Mr McAdam.

"Above all else, there is a need to ensure accountability. Police officers go through rigorous selection, training and vetting, and there is a clear chain of command and disciplinary procedures if they act incorrectly, all of which ensures they are properly accountable to the state.

"Police have a focus firmly on the law, whereas the SSPCA is a privately funded charity with a different set of objectives that govern how its own employees behave," he suggested. "These objectives include campaigning to change the law in respect of areas where they are now seeking powers to investigate and seize evidence on suspicion. "Certain campaigners have suggested that the investigation into recent raptor deaths in the north of Scotland has been inadequate and that had extended powers been available to the SSPCA, the investigation would be more effective.

"However, it has not been made clear what difference that would have made, given that the SSPCA were actually involved anyway in their normal role of supporting the police."

He also warned that the police could reprioritise their resources and leave the SSPCA to investigate most wildlife crimes.

For more news and views see this Friday's The Scottish Farmer or visit www.thescottishfarmer.co.uk