UK Wildlife crime unit faces the chop over funding crisis

Britain’s National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), which leads the fight against the burgeoning illegal wildlife trade, may be facing the axe. Concern is growing about the future of the widely praised unit, as the Home Office is refusing to agree its funding, which runs out on 31 March.

It would appear all gamekeepers are law-abiding and pose no threat to birds of prey in England, unlike their colleagues across the English Scottish border; well that’s OK then we can all sleep soundly now as there is no need to worry any more about what the majority of gamekeepers get up to when they come across raptors on estates where they are employed. All the scientific reports must be wrong and  the gamekeepers who have been successfully prosecuted are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted!

On the 30th June 2011 Richard Benyon provided a reply to a question in the House of Commons he had been asked  by Labour MP Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire), this was the question the Minister had been asked:

Only two weeks ago, a gamekeeper was convicted for illegally killing birds of prey in my constituency. Is it not time to think about introducing a vicarious liability offence to ensure that landowners and estate managers supervise their gamekeepers more closely and more effectively”?

Mr Benyon following the obvious lead he had been given earlier in the year by the former Chief  Executive of Natural England Dr. Helen Phillips when she thanked  England’s gamekeepers for the  wonderful work they carried out looking after our countryside and providing excellent biodiversity upon England’s moorland uplands.

This is the reply the Minister gave: “There are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being effectively enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside.”

This is all interesting Mr Benyon but take a close look at the image below, do you really think the laws we do have are really good enough to protect our wildlife. Just in case you are interested there are hundreds more graphic images like the ones shown below which are certainly enough to convince most sensible people within our society the laws are not even fit for purpose, never mind good enough. More to the point, without adequate enforcement accompanied by suitable funding they are pointless. We should be increasing the budget provided to Britain’s National Wildlife Crime Unit. Reducing any part of this budget would provide the criminals more opportunity to carry on doing what they do best.

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The lifeless bodies of three peregrine chicks shot to death with a rifle in Lancashire.

Protected – don’t talk such utter rubbish Minister

There are fears it may fall foul of the massive 20 per cent cuts in police budgets which are being implemented by the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

More than 100 MPs have signed an early day motion calling on the Government to secure the future of the unit, whose work, in combating everything from rhino-horn theft and illegal trade in reptiles to persecution of birds of prey, was recently warmly complemented by the all-party House of Commons Environment Audit Committee.

The concern is heightened by the fact that wildlife crime of all types is rapidly growing across the world, with elephant and rhino poaching both hitting new highs in 2012; organised crime is increasingly involved.

However, the relatively minuscule amount of funding for the 10-person unit – £136,000 annually from the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – has not yet been signed off, even though the current money to enable it to exist runs out on 31 March.

Defra has agreed its own share of the funding, but the Home Office has not, and Defra ministers have held direct talks with Ms May about it. But yesterday her department conspicuously declined to give a guarantee that it would actually be forthcoming. A Home Office spokesman would only say: “Decisions on specific government funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit beyond 2012-2013 will be taken by ministers before the end of the financial year.”

The NWCU is a strategic police unit, based in Livingston in Scotland, which collates intelligence and enforcement activity about wildlife crime across all British police forces. Recently it has run major operations concerning badger-baiting, the smuggling of reptiles and amphibians, and the persecution of raptors: no fewer than 633 birds of prey, from golden eagles to buzzards, were illegally poisoned between 2002 and 2011.

It is also involved in the British end of the illegal trade in rhino horn, which now has a black market value in Asia as high as gold. In the last two years there have been eight thefts and one attempted theft of rhino horns from British museums. The threat to the unit is being taken very seriously.

The Green MP Caroline Lucas said yesterday: “With wildlife crime on the increase, the refusal of ministers – particularly those at the Home Office – to recognise the severity of the problem and safeguard the NWCU is completely unforgivable.”

Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh, said last night: “The Government must not go soft on tackling wildlife crime now. This is a unit which punches above its weight and does hugely valuable work, and its funding needs to be preserved and settled as a matter of urgency to give its officers the security they need to plan their future activities.”

Grahame Madge, RSPB spokesman, said: “With the future of some birds of prey hanging in the balance, it’s imperative that the National Wildlife Crime Unit itself has a secure future.”

Operations: what the NWCU does

Badger cruelty: Operation Meles

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Illegally snared badger Forest of Bowland

An ongoing operation which brings together all the agencies concerned with badger-baiting with dogs, by gathering intelligence and taking direct operational action. It has resulted in a number of significant arrests and prosecutions in Scotland, the North of England, the North Midlands, and Wales.

Illegal bird trade: Operation Cage

An attempt to stem the illegal bird trade, especially in birds of prey such as peregrine falcons, which can be taken from the wild and sold for enormous sums for falconry, especially in the Middle East. Raids and inspections have resulted in a number of prosecutions.

Smuggling reptiles and amphibians: Operation Ramp

A global operation to try to curb the illegal trade in reptiles and amphibians as pets, which is threatening populations of number of species in the wild. The NWCU coordinated more than 500 inspections and enforcement actions across Britain, discovering illegal trade in animals such as Hermann’s tortoise.

Raptor persecution

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Poisoned Golden Eagle, how can anyone claim wildife laws in the UK are good enough?

A high-profile task for the NWCU as illegal poisoning of birds of prey, especially on grouse moors, continues in Britain and has driven the hen harrier, for example, to the brink of extinction in England. The NWCU is bringing shooting interests and the conservation agencies together to address the problem.

5 comments to UK Wildlife crime unit faces the chop over funding crisis

  • harrier man

    A very worrying situation we need the support, experience and expertise of the NWCU. The grouse moor keepers are getting away with continued persecution at present without a wildlife unit i dread to think what they will be able to get away with (of course with this government our raptors could fall back to the victorian days).

    Editor’s Comment, While there is an honorary gamekeeper sitting at the head of Defra what should we expect? The first species to be eradicated was the hen harrier, now they are taking out peregrines and goshawks upon all moorland regions in England, so why not pull the plug on the NWCU to make sure the job is done right without fear of being prosecuted. If you are in any doubt about the conspiracy between Natural England and Defra consider this, why were licenses removed from every member of the local raptor group who have worked in the Forest of Bowland since 1973? The answer is simple; those at the top of the tree were concerned at the embarrassment the group were causing to the estate owners their gamekeepers and Natural England. Sad really, but that’s the way politics has always been.

    Please sign this e-petition to show the government and the Home Office we are sick and fed up with cutbacks, especially when it effects our wonderful flora and fauna, we need the WLCU to keep doing it’s wonderful work unless we want to live in a world where wildlife is used for man’s greed and eventually exterminated altogether. This government stinks and needs to rethink it’s values and we are the ones to show them what we feel about it.

  • Falcoscot

    I’ve seen Defra waste millions over the last 30 years producing paperwork that does virtually nothing to fight real wildlife crime and how was it tackled pre WC Act ?, through intelligence gathering which is exactly what the NWCU is all about.
    4 million pounds was wasted trying to develop new a software system at Defra to operate the Wildlife licensing, called the Pheonix project and it ended up in the bin. Conservation in this country is a joke !

    Editor’s Comment, One of the most disappointing waste of tax payer’s money has been the failure of the Hen Harrier Recovery Project, hundreds of thousands of pounds down the drain resulting in less harriers at the end of the project than existed at the start. Much worst for the future, the message from grass root shooting is telling us the Hen Harrier has no place on England’s Red Grouse moorlands. If that how they feel,its time to stop pandering to these criminals. The only way to resolve the situation is to introduce a legal ban on all driven Red Grouse shooting. If that is not an option the government is prepared to take then the on going situation will never change.

  • Falcoscot

    I’ve probably said this before on here but it only took two or three cases of people found guilty of stealing chicks and eggs to launder as captive bred resulting in prison sentences to radically change the mindset of the falconry community so if this was also the penalty for persecution it might well have the same effect. Conservation in the UK is more about conserving public sector employment than protecting our native wildlife.

    Editor’s Comment, could not agree more with what you say, thank you. Editor

  • D. Moss

    Spin. That’s all they do. The NCWU has raised expectations whilst delivering a significantly worse service than your local police forces, who are stretched for numbers cash and knowledge on this specialist area of law. The sooner they go the better as they are purley self serving expensive and totally ineffective. Check out their website, try contacting them. Talk to a wall. Time to go and put something more useful in their place.