Government misses chance to turn up the heat on wildlife criminals


Despite evidence that wildlife crime is a threat to some of our most threatened species, the Government has ignored the advice of a committee of MPs by refusing to provide long-term financial security for the National Wildlife Crime Unit. They have also ignored some simple recommendations to turn up the heat on wildlife criminals in England and Wales. Martin Harper is the RSPB's conservation director. Commenting on the Government's announcement, he said: "Every year threatened species are killed illegally, putting some species at a great risk. Despite ministerial assurances that tackling wildlife crime is a 'core priority' and the Government being given a clear roadmap by a group of MPs on how to tackle wildlife crime, Ministers have ignored these recommendations. The Government's rejection of even simple wildlife crime measures at this crucial time displays a worrying lack of commitment to tackle this significant conservation issue."

In October last year, the Environmental Audit Committee, under the chair of Joan Walley MP, investigated wildlife crime and made recommendations, including securing long-term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit and tightening up controls on poisons used to kill birds of prey, allowing offences of possession to be linked to tougher sentences. Martin Harper said: "We're also very disappointed by the Government's response to introducing vicarious liability legislation, which would allow landowners to be prosecuted for crimes committed by their employees and make a real difference to tackling bird of prey persecution."

Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle, undisclosed site, Argyll (Photo: Jimmy MacDonald)

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The Association of Chief Police Officers supported vicarious liability in its evidence to the Committee, and the Law Commission is considering the merits of such an approach in England and Wales. Martin Harper added: "We urge Ministers to give careful thought to the Law Commission's forthcoming recommendations on reforming and strengthening wildlife laws in England and Wales."

The protection of birds of prey is one of six nationally agreed wildlife crime priorities. In the UK, illegal persecution is known to affect the conservation status of both the Golden Eagle and the Hen Harrier. Last year in England, just one pair of Hen Harrier nested successfully; there is space in England for at least 330 pairs.

Martin Harper added: "The Government has committed to avoid any human-induced extinction of species before 2020 — losing the Hen Harrier as a breeding bird from England would see it fail to keep that promise."

Written by: RSPB