Reform essential to tackle rising UK wildlife crime and ‘appallingly low’ number of convictions
The second Annual Wildlife Crime Report, produced by members of the Wildlife and Countryside Link (the biggest coalition of wildlife and environment charities in England) and counterpart, Wales Environment Link, reveals a big rise in wildlife crime incidents report last year (up by 9%).
There were a total of 1,283 wildlife crime incidents recorded by the coalition’s NGO members (which include WDC) in 2017, compared to 1179 in 2016. These include incidents involving marine mammals.’Disturbing whales and dolphins is an offence and it can, and has resulted in prosecution by the UK Wildlife Crimes Unit under Wildlife legislation’, said Sarah Dolman from WDC. ‘The UK is a great place to watch marine wildlife from land but many people are unaware of the laws around this issue.’
Earlier in the year, WDC has teamed up with police in Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (pictured) in a bid to educate watchers on how to stay within the law and other practical guidance relating to the watching of marine wildlife, including whales and dolphins.
In Enlgand and Wales, despite increases in reported wildlife crimes, shockingly only nine individuals and businesses were prosecuted last year for wildlife crimes the coalition collect data on. This is down two-thirds on the 22 people convicted in 2016, which highlights there are ongoing high levels of wildlife crime which criminals are simply getting away with.
The National Wildlife Crime Unit also recorded a fall in convictions in England and Wales. Across all types of wildlife crime there were 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.
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.
The coalition is calling for a range of measures to be put in place 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. These include; the appointment of wildlife crime champions by police forces and ensure sufficient training for staff who may deal with wildlife crime; and a call for 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.