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Environmental Audit Committee publishes report on wildlife crime

18 October 2012

The Environmental Audit Committee has today published the report of its inquiry into Wildlife Crime.

Wildlife protection laws in the UK are fractured and are being inconsistently applied in the courts, according to a report by Parliament's cross-party environmental watchdog.

  • Wildlife legislation has become so complex that prosecutions fail and even specialist enforcement professionals struggle to implement it effectively.
  • Hundreds of birds of prey have been deliberately poisoned with substances such as carbofuran that have no legal use. The Government could easily make possession an offence under legislation that has been on the statute book since 2006.
  • The lack of sentencing guidelines on wildlife offences means that some offenders are being neither punished nor deterred in the courts.
  • The CPS is failing to train its prosecutors to handle complex wildlife cases.
  • The inflexible implementation in UK law of international agreements covering the trafficking of endangered species squanders limited resources. For example, a vet might have to be present when samples are taken from imported endangered species, which includes not only living animals but mahogany furniture.

Environmental Audit Committee Chair, Joan Walley MP, said:

"Birds of prey are being systematically killed in this country by poisons that have no legal use, because the Government has failed to make it an offence to possess those substances.

Brand new legislation is not needed to criminalise possession of those poisons. Existing legislation already allows a simple Order listing them to be tabled in the Commons within days.

I challenge the Government to examine the overwhelming evidence on this and make this simple change by the end of the month – it would be an easy win for wildlife."

The report also examines how the Government’s commitment to tackling wildlife crime is undermined by short-termism.

Committee Chair, Joan Walley MP, observed:

"Wildlife protection law in the UK is in a mess after being patched up too many times in an effort to keep pace with offending. The law needs to be consolidated and the courts need to be given sentencing guidelines.

The Government's good intentions on wildlife crime are being undermined by tangled administrative arrangements and a lack of coherent long-term planning.

The Government need to back up the police on the front-line against wildlife crime. We are not recommending that they spend more money; we are recommending that they give specialist wildlife police more long-term funding certainty, so that the police can avoid a hand-to-mouth existence and the splintered arrangements which hamper efforts on the ground."

  • The Government has maintained funding for specialist wildlife crime investigation and enforcement, but this is provided on an ad hoc basis, reducing operational effectiveness. For example, the National Wildlife Crime Unit is managed by North Wales Police, has a website maintained by Lincolnshire Police and is based in a building owned by a Scottish police force.
  • The Government provided funding to monitor wildlife crime on the internet—an emerging and highly damaging facet of wildlife crime—but the funding was too short-term to attract a suitably qualified individual to fill the post.
  • In 2004, the Committee called for a new database to record all wildlife crime. In 2012, this key tool has still not been introduced.

Internationally, the report examines how the rhino, tiger and elephant are being driven to extinction by growing demand for illegal wildlife products in south-east Asia and China. It calls on the Government to exert robust diplomatic pressure in favour of the development and enforcement of wildlife law at the next CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) meeting in March 2013. In particular, the Government should focus attention on the damaging effect of ‘one-off’ sales of impounded ivory, which has been found to actually fuel demand for ivory products, and seek an unequivocal international ban on all forms of ivory trade.

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