Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Gangstas: Scottish-style crime rings

If you have ever wondered what the differences are really between Scotland and the US, here is one example of a Scottish Crime Ring:

Gangs steal moss to fund crime

ILLEGAL gangs dealing in drugs and other organised crime are now turning to the countryside to make money with devastating effects on Scotland’s native habitats, The Scotsman has learned.

Police officers working with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) have found that work parties, often involving illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, are being bussed north of the border by criminal drug gangs to pick sphagnum moss, which is then sold to garden centres.

Large tracts of endangered peat bogs are being ripped up and irreparably damaged for the black market trade in moss used in Christmas wreaths and for hanging baskets.

Sphagnum moss provides a protective layer for endangered peat bogs, and if large amounts are removed the bog dries out and it ceases to provide a haven for wildlife.

It is illegal to take plants or other natural resources without the permission of the landowner. In addition, the new Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act, which came into effect last month, will make it an offence for anyone to damage protected sites.

SNH is working with Strathclyde Police as part of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime initiative, to urge gardeners to find out where the moss was sourced or if garden retailers supply wreaths made from non-moss products.

It is valued by gardeners because it retains eight times its own dry weight of water and therefore keeps plants arranged in wreaths and hanging baskets alive for much longer.

John Ralston, the licensing officer at SNH, said: "There is clearly a massive demand for Christmas wreaths and hanging baskets, much of which will be made of moss from dubious sources.

"We are concerned that species such as sphagnum moss are being plundered in large quantities by commercial pickers to fuel this trade."

This year there have been two known cases of large-scale illegal gathering of sphagnum moss in Lanarkshire, one of which caused £34,000 damage.

PC Phil Briggs, a wildlife crime officer with Strathclyde Police, said: "Now that criminals have realised that they can start making money from this activity they are filling the niche.

"We are working closely with the National Criminal Intelligence Service in London," said PC Briggs.

"There are three or four people at a time going in to areas and stripping blanket bogs of sphagnum moss."

Short Story Long: I await the Scottish gangsta rapper who can effectively rhyme something with "sphagnum moss."

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