LANDOWNERS can now face prosecution if their staff or contractors commit wildlife crime such as killing protected species of birds.

Parts of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act came into force yesterday, including a new offence of "vicarious liability" in relation to the persecution of wild birds.

It allows the prosecution of landowners or managers who fail to take steps to ensure their employees or contractors act within the law. The legislation also covers a new hare close season, changes to the Deer Act and tightening of the law on snaring.

Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson said: "The introduction of vicarious liability highlights the importance of landowners and managers who run shooting businesses taking a proactive role in ensuring that their employees and contractors are aware of the law.

"Guidance being developed by Scottish Land and Estates will help their members take the right approach. Most such businesses already do act responsibly, but the small minority of managers and owners who don't will be at risk of prosecution if their employees are found to have broken the law in this area."

Detective Inspector Brian Stuart, head of the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit, said it highlighted the significance of the landowners and managers ensuring their workers manage land to the highest of standards.

Luke Borwick, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, said: "We are fully committed to stamping out wildlife crime."