Wildlife crime has increased in Scotland by more than 10 per cent over the last year, according to new statistics released by the Scottish Government.

Ministers described the hike detailed in the annual wildlife crime report as "frustrating".

According to the figures released, there were 196 incidents in 2020, up from 171 in the previous year, an increase of 13 per cent.

That’s in stark contrast to 2018 and 2019 when it dropped by more than 60 per cent.

While crimes against birds dropped by 22 per cent - down from 46 to 36 - there were increases in cruelty to wild animals, offences related to deer, and fish poaching.

However, the biggest rise was in hunting with dogs - relating mostly to hare or deer coursing - which rose from 22 incidents to 36 incidents, a 63 per cent increase.

The report details the case of a man fined £1000 after he pleaded guilty to “setting a dog to chase and kill two brown hares in contravention of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.”

Other notable cases included an individual caught with a dinghy, ropes and hooks who was fined £200 after “being found in circumstances which suggested that fish were being fished for other than by rod or line”. 

Another individual was fined £1000 for deliberately causing a bat nesting site or breeding site to be damaged and destroyed during the demolition of a building. 

While someone who pleaded guilty to shooting and killing a sparrowhawk was fined £450.

The highest number of wildlife offences in 2019-20 was recorded in the North East, followed by the Highland & Islands and The Lothians & Scottish Borders. 

Nearly half of all bird offences were recorded in Dumfries & Galloway.

Environment Minister, Mairi McAllan, said: She added: “Wildlife crime is not only abhorrent, it is also completely at odds with our work to address the biodiversity crisis, which is supported by so many people and organisations across Scotland.”

Commenting on the report, Scottish Gamekeepers Association chairman, Alex Hogg, said: “It is always disappointing to see cases rise, particularly after years of consistent reductions.

“The figures released today are for 2020, with official reporting falling behind.

“We understand that the 2021 figures, when published, will show cases falling back again.

“That is reassuring because no one wants a rising pattern to establish. There has been a lot of progress, including tough measures taken by Scottish Government. No one wants to see progress derailed.”

There was disagreement between the gamekeepers and the government over proposals to ban snaring. 

While the number of prosecutions in relation to snaring has reduced since the previous review, the numbers reported to the SSPCA remain relatively high.

The Scottish Government is considering whether the use of snares should be banned.

However, Mr Hogg said snaring remains an important tool for professional fox management in Scotland.

He said cases where a crime has occurred involving someone trained to operate snares, and who has an ID tag on their snares from the Police Scotland, are “few and certainly extremely infrequent compared to most crime types dealt with by the police”.