Wildlife crimes ‘slipping through the net’

The policing of wildlife crime needs a shake-up, with more designated officers and co-ordinated record- keeping, say the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts, which are petitioning for a Government review. They want a national agreement on what constitutes a wildlife crime, plus a standard system for keeping crime statistics currently, the police don’t have to detail these to the Home Office and methods vary between the 43 forces. They also say that HM’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Dennis O’Connor, should echo the Scottish Government, which, in 2007, conducted a review, the catalyst for which was the poisoning of a golden eagle.

The RSPB’s Ian West says: ‘In some upland areas and near some towns, bird-of-prey persecution continues at unacceptably high levels. There are many demands on our police, but wildlife crime is all too often pushed to the back of the queue. We need to get it taken seriously by those charged with upholding the law.’ In 2007, the RSPB received 1,208 reports of wildlife crime, including 262 reports of shooting or destroying a bird of prey, of which it could confirm 34.

The Wildlife Trusts say fly-tipping is a major issue, causing damage to habitat, but is difficult to prosecute, and they have anecdotal evidence of species persecution, such as of otters, where the law is in place, but enforcement is difficult. The National Wildlife Crime Unit says that police forces received 4,100-plus reports of wildlife crimes last year, but there are no figures on prosecutions. A spokesman says: ‘We would welcome any review, but we have to be realistic that there are many demands for such investigations.’ Other countryside groups, however, see the petition, signed by organisations such as Buglife and the Hawk Conservancy, as a dig at shooting groups.

The CA’s Tim Bonner comments: ‘We are equally concerned that wildlife crime is properly dealt with. Police forces should, however, be wary of being dragged into political campaigns. The RSPB, in particular, is very fond of making broad allegations against the shooting community on little or no evidence.’ Charles Nodder of the National Game-keepers’ Organisation (NG0) adds: ‘It is interesting, if not surprising, to see the RSPB pick out raptor persecution for special attention. It’s just one of six Government wildlife-crime priorities. Another is poaching perhaps 100 times more prevalent and not even mentioned by the RSPB.

The NGO is already working with the Police National Wildlife Crime Unit to combat all wildlife crime. It does not help when others try to drive wedges to serve their own agendas.’ In the August edition of The Field, editor Jonathan Young suggests the RSPB’s charitable status should be reviewed as it ‘no longer appears neutral on our sport’ and has ‘an obsession with hen harriers’.

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Last week, the RSPB outlined its vision on how to ‘resolve the conflict between hen-harrier conservation and grouse shooting’, accusing gamekeepers of ‘not trying techniques that could solve the problem’. The society’s uplands conservation officer Dr Pat Thompson says: ‘The next step is for grouse-moor managers to adopt techniques such as diversionary feeding more widely, and show that grouse-moor management is compatible with bird-of-prey conservation.’