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Why we must record wildlife crime

The Government does not currently record wildlife crime effectively, but how can wildlife crime be effectively addressed and prevented until the extent of the problem is known? We’ve come together to produce an NGO led report on annual crime figures and the impact of this crime in five different areas.

April 2018

For many years, a number of Link members have produced their own wildlife crime reports, (Bird-crime produced by the RSPB and Bat-crime produced by the Bat Conservation Trust being two examples). Today, we are launching the first of what is intended to be an annual wildlife crime report “Wildlife Crime in 2016”. In writing this report, we have aimed to present a comprehensive view of wildlife crime in England and Wales and how it impacts on a broad range of species.

It is difficult to identify a species of wildlife found in England or Wales that is not, on occasion, a victim of wildlife crime. Most commonly such crime involves the illegal killing of protected species or the infliction of cruelty. But sometimes wildlife crime has the potential to affect the conservation status of some of our rarest species, through illegal killing, the destruction of breeding and resting places, or through illegal trade.

The governments of England and Wales, by identifying the UK wildlife crime conservation priorities, (raptors, illegal trade in endangered species, freshwater pearl mussel, and bats) accept that wildlife crime can undermine conservation efforts. The police have also identified that badger persecution and poaching are the most common wildlife crimes that they are required to address.

Given the accepted impact of wildlife crime, it is surprising that those who have statutory duties to protect and enhance biodiversity cannot evidence its extent throughout England and Wales. The Home Office does not currently ask the police to report on levels of wildlife crime and the majority of police forces do not collate such information. Compare this position to the one in Scotland where the Scottish Government have, for several years, delivered on their statutory duty to produce an annual wildlife crime report.

Our new report, produced jointly with Wales Environment Link, consists of chapters produced by partner organisations on five different areas of wildlife crime. But common themes are identified.

It is recognised that there are many instances of exemplary work being undertaken by individual investigators and prosecutors, but too often such work is neither recognised nor supported. There are a number of matters to be addressed in order to reduce wildlife crime:
  • effective crime recording, as identified in our previous report, launched last year,
  • production of an annual report on wildlife crime figures by statutory authorities,
  • enhanced training and recognition of wildlife crime officers.

The above, along with effective investigations and prosecutions, the need to address evidential difficulties, dissuasive sentencing and the need to work in partnership, are the key areas of concern highlighted in our new report.

The government has international obligations to ensure that the criminal law relating to protected and endangered species is effectively enforced, whilst statutory authorities have a duty to conserve and enhance biodiversity. Can those obligations and duties be properly discharged when the extent of wildlife crime remains unknown? Given that the police and government are able to statistically report on almost any other type of criminal activity, the reluctance to record and report on wildlife crime is inexplicable.

Pete Charleston, Bat Conservation Trust

Find BCT on twitter: @_BCT_

Pete Charleston has been the Conservation wildlife crime officer for the Bat Conservation Trust since 2010. Prior to that he spent 30 years as a Police officer with North Wales Police. For the last eight years of his service he dealt solely with wildlife crime. The views expressed in this blog are purely personal.