A Scottish animal welfare charity could be given powers usually reserved for the police to investigate wildlife crimes.
Inspectors from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) may be given powers similar to the police to access land and premises and seize evidence relating to potential wildlife crimes.
A new Scottish Government consultation proposes that the charity have the power to apply for a warrant to search people's homes and premises, to investigate crimes relating to wild birds, other protected animals, poaching, snaring and non-native species of animals.
Environment minister and chair of Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (Paw) Scotland Paul Wheelhouse said the increase of power could lead to wildlife crimes being tackled more effectively.
This would complement work on wildlife crime carried out by Police Scotland
“The proposals to increase the powers for SSPCA inspectors could provide an additional resource to Police Scotland in an area of crime which can be time consuming and difficult to investigate,” he said.
“These crimes often occur in remote locations where there are few or no witnesses. When incidents are discovered any delays increase the likelihood of any evidence being destroyed – either deliberately or simply as a result of exposure.
“The outcome of this consultation will help us to understand public opinion on possible new ways forward.”
The move follows recent Paw Scotland figures that revealed the number of birds of prey illegally poisoned in Scotland doubled last year.
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said: "If powers are granted, 60 trained Scottish SPCA inspectors throughout Scotland would be able to assist the Scottish Government in its commitment to tackle wildlife crime.
“This would complement work on wildlife crime carried out by Police Scotland."
The consultation opened on Monday and will run until 1 September.