Ministers are considering tougher fines and longer prison sentences for those found guilty of wildlife crimes.

The Scottish Government said current prison terms are “too short”, while fines for the most serious wildlife offences are also too low. 

It comes amid rising concerns over the illegal killing and taking of rare species, including freshwater pearl mussels, golden eagles and hen harriers. TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham recently claimed the killing of birds of prey is “out of control” in Scotland

In 2015, an independent review found the current laws around wildlife crime may not be serving as a sufficient deterrent, while punishments fail to reflect the serious nature of some crimes.

READ MORE: New plea for Scotland's at-risk pearl mussel as bid to stop illegal fishing falters

The Wildlife Crime Penalties Review Group, chaired by Professor Mark Poustie, made 10 recommendations – including increasing the maximum available penalties. 

Ministers are now consulting on whether to extend the maximum prison sentence to five years, as well as bringing in unlimited fines. 

The consultation reads: “In recent years there have been a number of wildlife offences committed against wild animals of threatened conservation status. 

“The impact of these crimes on such species can be so significant that the maximum sentence available to the court is considered by many to be insufficiently punitive.”

“The illegal killing or taking of some rare Scottish species, including freshwater pearl mussels, golden eagles and hen harriers has serious implications. 

“It has resulted in localised loss of bird of prey populations and the complete extinction of mussel populations from many rivers.

“In other cases, especially those that involve deliberate, calculated and sadistic behaviour we believe that higher penalties than those currently available are required. 

“Crimes of this type include badger baiting, in which a badger is dug out of its den and then set upon by dogs, resulting in the death of the badger and often serious injury to the dogs used.”

It adds: “The Scottish Government considers that the current maximum available prison term is too short and the maximum available fine is too low in relation to the most serious wildlife offences. 

“These maximum penalties may neither recognise the seriousness of the offence nor act as an effective deterrent.”

READ MORE: Chris Packham targets grouse moors after eagles vanish

Ministers are also seeking to extend the time-limit in which crimes can be investigated and prosecuted.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to protecting Scotland’s wildlife and tackling wildlife crime, and will strengthen legislation to increase penalties based on the recommendations of an expert group. 

“The consultation proposes raising the maximum sentence for serious wildlife crimes to up to five years in a prison, an unlimited fine, or both. 

“We will fully consider all responses when the consultation closes on August 16.”