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“Wildlife crime” surges over pandemic

Reports of “wildlife crime” surged throughout the coronavirus pandemic as policing resources fell, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL), the largest environment and wildlife coalition in England, suggests that a lack of enforcement has “emboldened criminals”.

According to the survey, reports of “wildlife crime” surged in 2020 as the number of people visiting the countryside rose.

“Wildlife crime” is defined as the “taking, trading (supplying, selling or trafficking), importing, exporting, processing, possessing, obtaining and consumption of wild fauna and flora, including timber and other forest products, in contravention of national or international law”.

In the UK, this includes badger setts being bulldozed by builders and farmers (up 36 per cent compared to 2019), the illegal taking of fish, such as salmon, from rivers (up by more than a third), and the disturbance of seals and dolphins by people in boats (up 90 per cent).

The number of confirmed birds of prey crimes – known as raptor persecution – also doubled in 2020, representing the worst year for bird crime since records began in 1990.

But prosecutions for breaches of the Hunting Act 2004 more than halved during the same period, suggesting that efforts by police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to charge offenders have been “hampered by Covid-19”.

Commenting on the findings, Martin Sims, chair of WCL’s wildlife crime working group, said: “Wildlife crime is something that should concern everyone. It inflicts pain, harm and loss for much-loved wildlife and fuels wider criminality against people and property.

“It is high time the government steps in to treat wildlife crime with the seriousness it deserves.”

Dawn Varley, of the Badger Trust, added: “Badger crime has been a UK wildlife crime priority for more than a decade, but sadly this persecution shows no sign of letting up.”

And David Bunt, of the Institute of Fisheries Management, said: “It is hugely worrying that fisheries crimes have been on the rise in the pandemic, but convictions are down by two-thirds. Our biggest concern is whether inland enforcement agencies, the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales have the resources and staff to detect and deter crime on our rivers and lakes.”

Responding to the report, a government spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance of tackling wildlife crime, which is why we directly fund the NCWU who provide intelligence and support to police forces protecting our precious wildlife.

“Those found guilty of harming animals should be subject to the full force of the law. Significant sanctions are available to judges to hand down to those convicted of wildlife crimes.”

Click here to access the WCL report.

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