Coming hot on the heels of our 2016 report, it might be seen as depressing reading. The number of reported incidents has risen by about 10% - that might be partly explained by annual fluctuations, but the more glaring trend is that the number of recorded prosecutions fell from 22 to just 7 (involving 9 people or companies who faced a total of 22 charges). Informal recording of wildlife prosecutions, undertaken by the National Wildlife Crime Unit, covering a broader spectrum of wildlife offences, reveals that in 2017 there were 30 prosecutions compared with 47 in 2016 (involving 36 and 78 offenders). Ministry of Justice figures for hunting, poaching and conservation recorded convictions also fell from 166 last year to 133 in 2017.
Our reporting of the small number of wildlife crime prosecutions should not be taken as a criticism of those undertaking such work. Indeed, we have reason to believe that when we next report the number of prosecutions will be considerably greater. Instead, it evidences just how difficult it is to gauge the extent of wildlife crime when there are no formal recording policies. Our aim is to work towards a situation where the extent of wildlife crime can be evidenced in a transparent manner. The recommendations contained in our report are clear as to what is needed.
The need to address wildlife crime is surely a no-brainer. Crime is accepted as being a cause for population decline in bats, near or complete extirpation of some of our most iconic birds of prey and the most appalling acts of cruelty. Illegal trade in endangered species within the UK undermines international efforts to protect wildlife. Make no mistake wildlife crime can be serious crime. The use of measure under the Proceeds of Crime Act and identification of organised crime gangs evidences the rewards that can be available to those who commit wildlife crime.
In April 2018, we published our first wildlife crime report that made similar recommendations to those in the second. During the past six months, some significant and praiseworthy progress has been made. The National Police Chiefs Council has adopted a wildlife crime strategy that embraces many of our concerns and is now policy for every police force in the UK. The Crown Prosecution Service has a team of expert wildlife crime prosecutors, and the Sentencing Council has undertaken a public consultation of sentencing for wildlife crime, albeit as part of a larger piece of work.
It is pleasing to be able to reflect on progress over the past months. The challenge now is for that progress to be maintained and change to be implemented. We hope, that by the time we publish our third annual wildlife crime report, some tangible results will be identifiable. Our aim is to ensure that wildlife crime is not seen to be any different from other type of crime. It needs to be recorded in a manner that allows for proper analysis that, in turn leads to tasking and coordination and the appropriate allocation of resources.
Pete Charleston, Wildlife Crime Officer, Bat Conservation Trust
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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