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20/04/18 10:00

DNA breakthrough for wildlife crime

Recovery of human DNA to help solve bird of prey offences.

Wildlife crime investigations could be supported by new research into retrieving human DNA found at the scene, even days after the incident has taken place. 

The research was initiated by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland and carried out by the Scottish Police Authority’s (SPA) Forensic Services, the Scottish Government and the University of Strathclyde.

It found DNA can be traced on traps that have been outside for at least 10 days, and from rabbit baits and bird carcasses at crime scenes after at least 24 hours.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, who is also chair of PAW Scotland, said:

“Poisoning, trapping and shooting are all methods used to illegally target birds of prey, however investigations can often be hampered by a lack of evidence.

“This new research will unlock the potential of using DNA profiles to track criminals and could play a crucial role in helping secure convictions for wildlife crime.

“We continue to prioritise wildlife crime and are working to develop new ways to protect our precious birds of prey, including through a new wildlife crime detective post at Police Scotland HQ and a new team of special constables to tackle rural crime in the Cairngorms National Park.”

Steven Ferguson, Lead Forensic Scientist at SPA Forensic Services, said:

“This exciting research in support of tackling wildlife crime demonstrates that DNA profiles can be obtained from items exposed to the elements in Scotland's sometimes harsh climate. 

“In recent years, over £6 million has been invested in new forensic capability in Scotland including DNA24, robotics and powerful software to successfully obtain DNA profiles in support of the Scottish justice system.

“The research undertaken by PAW has demonstrated that these same techniques, used in crimes ranging from housebreaking to murder, can also be used to identify those involved in persecuting birds of prey.”

Detective Chief Superintendent David McLaren said:

"The illegal use of traps are often used in remote places. This makes the collection of evidence extremely challenging.  Police Scotland always welcomes advancement in scientific techniques to solve wildlife crime and has always used all the available tools in our pursuit of those who commit wildlife crime.

"This new technique will advance our ability to collect Human DNA from illegally set traps."

Background

This study has been published by Forensic Science International : Genetics.

The outdoor experiments were carried out by Kayleigh Mcleish, an MSc student in Forensic Science at the University of Strathclyde, at the Scottish Government’s Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) and the laboratory work was carried out at the Scottish Police Authority Forensic Services.

PAW Scotland is the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland, including the police, land managers, conservationists and government agencies, working together to fight wildlife crime.

Further details on PAW Scotland science group.

SASA houses the Wildlife DNA Forensics Unit and the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme.

Scottish Police Authority Forensic Services provides forensic science from crime scene to court in support of operational policing in Scotland.