Wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy: could you be break­ing the law?

The Oban Times - - Leisure - By Charles Everitt, Na­tional Wildlife Crime Unit

Do you know the laws about pho­tograph­ing wildlife? Re­cent al­le­ga­tions of pho­tog­ra­phers dis­turb­ing ot­ters, caper­cail­lie, osprey and seals around Scot­land dur­ing the last 12 months have raised quite a bit of in­ter­est in this topic.

While po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion still con­tin­ues into these in­ci­dents – three of which oc­curred in the spring and sum­mer of 2015 – the de­sire to take a pic­ture at an an­i­mal’s ex­pense is the root cause and is a timely re­minder that much of Scot­land’s, and the rest of the

UK’s, flora and fauna is pro­tected by law.

This of­ten means that li­cences are re­quired to pro­tect wildlife pho­tog­ra­phers from com­mit­ting of­fences.

The Part­ner­ship for Ac­tion Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scot­land is con­cerned that ig­no­rance of the reg­u­la­tions is putting an­i­mals at risk and pho­tog­ra­phers in dan­ger of at­tract­ing fines and crim­i­nal records.

In 2011, two pho­tog­ra­phers were con­victed of dis­turb­ing a white-tailed sea ea­gle’s nest on Mull, re­ceiv­ing fines to­talling £1100. A sim­i­lar case in 2005 con­cern­ing an osprey nest near Lake of Mon­teith in Stir­ling­shire saw a pho­tog­ra­pher fined £ 300.

Ac­cord­ing to the RSPB’s Bird­crime re­port, there were 14 re­ported in­ci­dents of pho­tog­ra­phy and dis­tur­bance of Sched­ule 1 species (birds af­forded ad­di­tional le­gal pro­tec­tion) in 2013 across the UK, with an av­er­age of 34 in­ci­dents per year be­tween 2008 and 2012.

In 2013, two shell­fish col­lec­tors were given com­mu­nity or­ders and fined a to­tal of £200 for dis­turb­ing Roseate Terns on Co­quet Is­land off the Northum­ber­land coast.

Many pho­tog­ra­phers from around the UK visit Scot­land to pho­to­graph its more rare wildlife. While wider causes of an­i­mal dis­tur­bance re­main a con­cern, it’s im­por­tant that the re­cent up­surge in wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy doesn’t con­trib­ute to greater num­bers of in­ci­dents.

In wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy, the wel­fare of the an­i­mal should al­ways come first and the pho­tog­ra­pher should avoid dis­turb­ing it.

Pho­tog­ra­phers should know their sub­ject and be able to recog­nise the im­pact that they are hav­ing on it.

The most com­mon of­fence that wildlife pho­tog­ra­phers risk is one of ‘in­ten­tional or reck­less’ dis­tur­bance of cer­tain pro­tected species.

De­tailed guid­ance on wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy and li­cens­ing in Scot­land can be found on the Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage (SNH) web­site.

Si­m­il­iar in­for­ma­tion for Eng­land and Wales can be found on Nat­u­ral Eng­land’s web­site.

While no of­fence is com­mit­ted if an an­i­mal re­mains undis­turbed, the ma­jor­ity of pho­tog­ra­phers have no con­trol over how that an­i­mal may re­act – there­fore, they risk com­mit­ting of­fences.

Pho­tog­ra­phers can ap­ply for a li­cence from SNH or Nat­u­ral Eng­land to pro­vide per­mis­sion to dis­turb the an­i­mal for the pur­poses of pho­tog­ra­phy but, un­der­stand­ably, li­cences are site spe­cific and granted only to pho­tog­ra­phers who can dis­play a level of com­pe­tence.

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