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Reform essential to tackle rising wildlife crime and ‘appallingly low’ number of convictions

30 November 2018

The second Annual Wildlife Crime Report, produced by members of the Wildlife and Countryside Link and Wales Environment Link coalitions [1], reveals that reported terrestrial wildlife crime incidents against bats, badgers and birds of prey rose by an average of 24% last year, with the number of wildlife crime incidents reported rising by 9% overall.

There were a total of 1,283 wildlife crime incidents recorded by these NGOs in 2017, compared to 1179 in 2016. Despite increases in reported wildlife crimes shockingly only 9 individuals and businesses were convicted last year for wildlife crimes the coalition collect data on. [2] This is down two-thirds on the 22 people convicted in 2016. This highlights there are ongoing high levels of wildlife crime which criminals are simply getting away with. National Wildlife Crime Unit and Ministry of Justice data also show falls in the number of convictions for wildlife crime.[3]

Wildlife experts are warning that the trend of worryingly low convictions for wildlife crimes is likely to continue unless key problems are tackled. These issues include: the lack of a police recording system for wildlife crime and increased pressure on police resources; the exclusion of some types of evidence, such as covert surveillance, often being excluded from trials; the increasing use of the internet to facilitate wildlife crime; and inadequate penalties for those convicted.

Wildlife crimes reported in 2017
Please note, these figures are likely to be a substantial underestimate of wildlife crime levels, due to the absence of government and police data, the fact that figures on many types of offences (such as poaching and illegal hunting), are not collected by these NGOs and that some crimes are less visible and therefore more likely to go unreported.

* There is not enough data for an exact figure, but most cases involving birds of prey are referred to the police.
** There were 7 convictions which involved 9 individuals or businesses convicted of a total of 22 charges.

Pete Charleston, Conservation Wildlife Crime Officer for the Bat Conservation Trust, said: ‘If we are to conserve and protect our wildlife then the manner in which wildlife crime is perceived and addressed has to change. Rising crime levels for many species and falling conviction rates clearly demonstrates that wildlife is not getting the protection, or the justice, that it needs and deserves.’

Mark Jones, Head of Policy at the Born Free Foundation and Chair of Link’s Wildlife Crime Working Group, said: ‘This year, our Government hosted an international conference on wildlife trafficking, and made a number of commitments, including substantial funding, to help tackle this scourge overseas. But while it’s good to see the UK championing this issue internationally, we need to do much more here at home to protect our wildlife against criminals. We urge our policy makers to provide the much-needed focus and resources this issue clearly deserves, in order to help our under-funded enforcement agencies bring an end to the widespread criminal persecution of our precious wildlife.’

Caroline Ruane, CEO of Naturewatch Foundation said: ‘It’s shocking that so few criminals were successfully prosecuted last year, when the hidden horrors of wildlife crime are killing so many of our most iconic animals and birds. The Government must bring this issue out of the shadows and put it under the spotlight by introducing better recording and reporting; ensuring the police have the resources and champions to tackle the problem; and making sure more wildlife criminals are brought to trial, successfully prosecuted, and receive punishments that fit the crime.’

Guy Shorrock, Senior Investigations Officer at the RSPB, said: ‘The raptor persecution figures are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the extent of the illegal killing in England and Wales. The true scale of harm people are causing to our protected species is hidden due to most incidents going unreported or undetected, and the difficulties in bringing about successful prosecutions. It is scandalous that so few criminals are brought to justice. We must speak up for wildlife that can’t speak for itself.’

Paul de Ornellas, Chief Wildlife Advisor at WWF, said: ‘The illegal trade in wildlife is not just a problem affecting other parts of the world, but as the wildlife crime report shows it’s also right here on our doorsteps, with online trade an emerging threat. This is a global problem and we welcome the leadership role the UK plays in tackling it, but it’s important we effectively support our law enforcement efforts at home too, particularly targeting cybercrime which allows the illegal online trade to flourish.’

Since the publication of the 2016 wildlife crime report, the National Police Chiefs Council and Police and Crime Commissioners adopted a wildlife crime strategy with the input of Link member organisations. The strategy incorporates many of our recommendations. Link members are now working closely with enforcement agencies to ensure the strategy is fully implemented. The Sentencing Council has identified wildlife crime as needing sentencing guidance, and the EFRA Select Committee has recommended an increase in available sentences for wildlife crimes. However this has yet to translate into concrete improvements in sentencing.

To ensure that wildlife crime is transparently assessed, priorities and resources are targeted most effectively, more wildlife criminals are successfully prosecuted, and sentences really do fit the crimes and act as a real deterrent, the NGOs are calling for:

  • the Home Office to make all wildlife crimes in England and Wales recordable with specific police crime codes, and to produce an annual report analysing wildlife crime trends and helping direct funding and resources accordingly
  • Defra to ensure adequate long-term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit and other key enforcement agencies, to effectively tackle wildlife crime and develop additional resources to respond to the growing threat of wildlife crime facilitated online
  • Police forces to appoint wildlife crime champions and ensure sufficient training for staff who may deal with wildlife crime
  • the Crown Prosecution Service and Sentencing Council to maintain specialist wildlife crime prosecutors, remedy issues with the admissibility of wildlife crime evidence such as surveillance footage, and develop comprehensive and stringent wildlife crime sentencing guidelines

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

  1. The new report is being launched at the 30th UK Wildlife Crime Enforcers Conference on 1 December. Wildlife and Countryside Link is the biggest coalition of wildlife and environment charities in England. Wales Environment Link is a network of environmental, countryside and heritage non-governmental organisations with an all-Wales remit. Both operate as part of a UK-wide coalition - Environment Links UK. The report and calls for action are backed by 19 organisations: A Rocha UK, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Angling Trust, Badger Trust, Bat Conservation Trust, Born Free Foundation, Greenpeace UK, Humane Society International UK, IFAW, Institute of Fisheries Management, MarineLIFE, Naturewatch Foundation, Plantlife, RSPB, RSPCA, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Wildfowl & Wetland Trust (WWT), WWF-UK, ZSL Zoological Society of London.
  2. There were 7 convictions (3 for crimes against bats and 4 for illegal wildlife trade crimes), these involved 9 individuals or businesses convicted of a total of 22 charges.
  3. The National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), a Police intelligence unit providing operational support to law enforcement, also recorded a fall in convictions in England and Wales. Across all types of wildlife crime they recorded 30 convictions with 36 individuals/businesses convicted in 2017. This was a 36% decrease in the number of convictions and a 54% decrease in the number of individuals/businesses convicted in 2016 when there were 47 convictions of 78 individuals/businesses.

    The data the NWCU have recorded is collected informally as there is no requirement currently for local forces to report prosecutions and convictions to a central hub. This means that the actual number of wildlife crime convictions will be higher than this, but it is impossible to be accurate due to poor recording and reporting requirements on wildlife crimes across the police force.

    The Ministry of Justice outcomes by offence datatool, shows a combined total of 133 convictions for poaching, game and illegal hunting related crimes and Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations related crimes in 2017, falling from 166 in 2016 and more than 300 convictions in 2013. Only 6 of the convictions in 2017 were for Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations related crimes, continuing low prosecution numbers on this issue from previous years. There will have been convictions for additional wildlife crimes not included in these crime types.

    Hunting and poaching-related crimes make up the majority of the convictions in both NWCU and MoJ data. These crime types are not included in our Annual Wildlife Crime Report as we do not have access to data on these crimes.