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Sunday, 18 February, 2001, 15:32 GMT
Plant thefts growing warn police
Bluebells
Wild bluebells are being stolen and sold
Scottish police have warned that gangs of thieves are making thousands of pounds by stealing wild plants and flowers.

A spokesman for Strathclyde police said organised criminals were using JCBs to harvest wild plants before selling them on to garden centres for huge profits.

The Scottish Executive and wildlife experts will discuss the problem with police later this month at a special conference on wildlife crime

It is expected that Environment Minister, Sam Galbraith, will use the conference to announce tougher laws to protect the country's natural heritage.

Snowdrops
Wild snowdrops are a favourite with thieves
The extent of the problem has been outlined by Inspector Colin Duffy of Strathclyde Police, who is organising the conference.

He described the situation as the "looting of the countryside" and called on the public to report more incidents of wildlife crime.

"It is not just rare plants but many common ones," he said.

"There are organised criminal gangs involved and they can make tens of thousands of pounds from taking bulbs like bluebells and snowdrops.

"Criminals are attracted to wherever there is good profits, it does not matter to them that it is plants. In fact this theft carries less risk with profitable returns."

Organised gangs

Inspector Duffy said that criminals using JCBs took thousands of bulbs in the Borders while another gang took tons of moss used for hanging baskets in the north of Scotland.

"What is happening is not casual theft. We are not talking about people picking wild flowers," he said.

"This involves organised criminal gangs. Once a bulb is taken from the ground it is gone forever. It is looting the land."

Under the Countryside and Wildlife Act 1981 it is illegal to take protected plants from the countryside.

Fines of up to 2500 can be imposed, but as yet, there is no prison sentence for the crime.

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23 Feb 00 | Scotland
Wildlife offenders could be caged
28 Jan 00 | Scotland
Three Scottish species on risk list
21 Jan 00 | Scotland
Scottish national parks near reality
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