The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) welcomes today’s report from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) and is delighted to see that its key recommendations have been accepted by the group: chiefly consolidation of legislation, issuing of Home Office sentencing guidance, use of diplomatic pressure to motivate foreign countries’ wildlife crime work and long term stable funding of enforcement in the UK.
The Parliamentary cross-party environmental watchdog’s report makes a thorough list of recommendations to Government, some recommendations shockingly having to be reiterated from the last time the group convened in 2004.
WSPA gave evidence at the report hearings earlier this year along with the Metropolitan Police Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) – a vital policing team which the charity had to step in and part fund earlier this year amid fears that valuable enforcement knowledge could be lost due to stagnating funds and low political priority given to the issue.
Simon Pope, WSPA UK Director of Campaigns and Communications said: “We welcome the majority of the Committee’s recommendations but are deeply concerned that in recommending police forces look to NGOs for additional funding they are placing too much faith in ‘Big Society’. WSPA’s support for the Metropolitan Police Service Wildlife Crime Unit is only a sticking plaster solution and what we now need is a long-term funding commitment from the Government to ensure the vital work carried out against wildlife crime in the UK can be maintained and strengthened.”
The EAC’s report states that the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s (NWCU) specialist skills are “a cost-effective asset that should be protected and developed”, which WSPA wholeheartedly supports.
WSPA strongly believes that the Metropolitan Police Force’s own unit has similar expertise that makes it extremely valuable and well worth the Government and the Mayor of London investing in.
Simon explained: “Efforts by groups like WSPA to paper over the cracks in terms of funding deficits for enforcement of wildlife crime can never be a replacement for a proper long-term plan by Government to address this problem. The hand to mouth existence of those on the front-line fight of wildlife crime is perpetuated through reliance on charity for their immediate future. If the Government and Mayor of London had maintained funding for specialist wildlife crime enforcement, WSPA would not have had to step in to secure the future of the Met Police’s Wildlife Crime Unit last year.”
Vitally, the Environmental Audit Committee has recognised this issue has to be solved through a long-term, sustainable commitment from Government and not the intervention of charities in the absence of any other solution.
Simon added: “Without the specialist skills and knowledge of the WCU, wildlife crime in London could flourish. This is not some niche, illicit trade carried out by petty part-time villains. It is a major source of revenue for a global network of hardened criminals, gangs and drug lords; all growing rich from the trafficking of wildlife and none about to have a crisis of conscience and stop what they are doing. Now consider this on a national and international scale – the enforcement teams need meaningful funding and support from UK government and they need it now."
WSPA's list of recommendations
• The Crown Prosecution Service needs to have necessary level of expertise to deal with wildlife crime issues – particularly as they may be up against prosecutors with much more expertise
• The national government has a role to play in global wildlife trade issues. For example, with help from supporters, WSPA lobbied the FCO and Minister Jeremy Browne to make representations to the Korean authorities regarding a bill in Korean Parliament on the bear bile industry which the Minister described as “abhorrent”. Following the Minister’s comments, WSPA was invited to meet with representatives at the Korean Embassy in London to discuss the bill
• Using CITES and Appendix II can be used to ensure practices like shark finning can be outlawed
• There is an urgent need to consolidate wildlife legislation – the WCU currently have to deal with bits of legislation going back to the 1820s or 1830s
• Currently there are inconsistent penalties for wildlife crime offences as the legislation has not been updated for at least a decade. They are not acting as a disincentive to perpetrators and there is in need of urgent reform
• Control on Trade of Endangered Species (COTES) regulations need reform
• The National Wildlife Crime Unit needs a dedicated internet researcher to better allow the unit to combat cyber crime
• The categories used to record offences should include a specific category of ‘Wildlife Crime’ so that all such offences can be easily notified and information on them is readily available. There are no concrete national statistics on wildlife crime due to the current recording procedure
• Long-term funding for the Wildlife Crime Unit and its officers needs to be secured for the modest number of posts concerned to ensure the continued development of this critical and specialised role.