Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Calling on Government to “Take Wildlife Crime Seriously”

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Experts are calling on the government to treat wildlife crime “with the necessary seriousness” as a report found that wildlife persecution rose sharply during the pandemic – but convictions fell.

Crimes such as badger bait and the poisoning, trapping and shooting of birds of prey increased over the past year while restrictions were in place.

And according to the Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL) study, there has been a “shocking” increase of 220 percent in claims made by developers interfering with rooftop estates.

The Link, a coalition of dozens of conservation groups, warned that crime was spreading across the countryside, fueled by lockdowns that allowed criminals to stay uncontrolled.

The organization’s fifth annual report, which covers England and Wales, shows that over the past year many types of crime have been at their highest or second highest levels, and outlines how bats, buzzards, hares, kestrels, seals, dolphins and bluebells were attacked.

However, the document also warns that the numbers are only “the tip of the iceberg” as the Home Office does not have specific wildlife laws so the police cannot assess the crime rate.

Convictions for fishing and hunting crimes during the pandemic fell by at least half to their lowest level in five years.

Experts said the low charges and convictions were partly due to less investigation.

“Therefore, crimes do not even reach the prosecution phase or fail to prosecute due to lack of expertise or the involvement of the prosecutor at the last minute,” said a WCL spokeswoman The independent one.

“The recognition of the impact of this lack of expertise is reflected in the launch of new CPS hunting law training for prosecutors from early next month.”

Reports of badger crimes rose 36 percent last year, with potential fishing crime also increasing by more than a third (35 percent), according to the data.

The number of birds of prey killed reached its highest level ever, rising from 54 to 104, although tracking birds of prey is a priority for the National Wildlife Crime Unit. Birds of prey are attacked because marksmen see them as a threat to wild bird numbers.

And as more and more people vacationed in the UK, reports rose of tourists in Cornwall physically approaching seals and dolphins.

Fishing crime convictions fell from 2,037 in 2019 to 679.

Martin Sims, chairman of the WCL’s Wildlife Crime, said, “Wildlife crime should affect everyone – it inflicts pain, harm and loss on loved ones, and it fuels wider crime against people and property.

“Even so, the police are still not collecting centralized data on these serious crimes, leaving an incomplete picture of charities, which could be just a drop in the ocean on wildlife crime.

“It is high time the government stepped in to treat wildlife crime with the seriousness it deserves. The obligation to report important crimes would enable police forces to use resources more effectively and track down repeat offenders.

“Better training and resources for police and prosecutors would help raise the pitiful 32 percent conviction rate for hunting down hunts alone.”

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has made recommendations for the government.

Dawn Varley, acting CEO of the Badger Trust, said some developers appeared to see habitat protection “as an inconvenience that needs to be quietly bulldozed, rather than a legal obligation to preserve.”

According to the WCL, the police record most wildlife crimes as “miscellaneous” so they are invisible in the records, and the crime rate is likely far higher than the charities’ data.

A government spokesman said: “We recognize the importance of fighting wildlife crime, which is why we are funding directly the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which provides information and assistance to police forces in protecting our precious wildlife.

“We are confident that those found guilty of harming animals should be subject to the full force of the law. Significant sanctions are available to judges to impose on those convicted of wildlife crimes. “

A CPS spokesman said, “We are working even more closely with the police and other partner agencies to achieve better performance in investigating and prosecuting wildlife crime,” they said.

“The pandemic has reminded us of the importance of the natural environment and wildlife for economic, health and welfare reasons, so the CPS is ready to prosecute those who seek to harm it.”

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