Rhetoric on wildlife crime welcome, Government must now follow up with action
The UK Government’s response to the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee’s report on wildlife crime has been published, and while it talks a good talk on the importance of tackling wildlife crime, it is yet to back this up with action at home.
Last year the International Fund for Animal Welfare inputted into the Committee’s inquiry on wildlife crime, with Senior Campaigns and Prosecutions Officer Tania McCrea-Steele giving evidence on wildlife trafficking and the UK’s response to it, whilst our Asia Regional Director Grace Ge Gabriel gave testimony on the issue in Asia, particularly in China.
We welcomed the cross-party Committee’s robust recommendations on measures the Government should take to strengthen its fight against wildlife crime. The Committee argued that the success of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), that gathers intelligence and provides support to police forces tackling wildlife crime around the country, should be reinforced by a commitment from the Government to long-term funding.
Thanks to our supporters’ efforts in raising this issue with MPs and Ministers the Government recently extended the Unit’s funding for another year, but in their response this week they failed to commit to funding beyond this point. This is deeply disappointing, particularly as the funds involved are comparatively small, and by helping other forces do their job of tackling wildlife crime more efficiently the Unit probably saves the taxpayer money in the long-run.
Important recommendations to make wildlife crime easier to track by introducing a specific Home Office code and instructing all police forces to submit information on wildlife crime in their area to the NWCU have also been rejected by the Government on the grounds of increased bureaucracy.
Unfortunately, this means it will not be possible to effectively measure the scale of wildlife crime in the UK, which is essential if the police and UK Border Force are to crack down on people profiting from the trade in wildlife products.
We applauded the Committee for its recommendation that the Crown Prosecution Service should strengthen its ability to prosecute wildlife crime through either the introduction of specialist wildlife crime prosecutors or specialist wildlife crime training for existing prosecutors.
It is frustrating that the Government has chosen to ignore this advice as it could lead to wildlife criminals being let off the hook despite robust police investigations into their activities.
The Government is a strong voice for conservation internationally and has taken a welcomed lead in opposing the trade in ivory. Likewise, its encouragement to recently elected police commissioners to prioritise the enforcement of wildlife crime is heartening.
But words won’t bring an end to illegal wildlife trade.
Words won’t stop elephants being hacked to death for their tusks, as we hear this week of the horrific slaughter of 89 elephants, including 35 pregnant females, by poachers in Chad.
As we know from our recent support of INTERPOL’s Project Web report, the ivory trade isn’t confined to Africa and Asia – it is happening on our doorstep.
The UK must back up its strong words with strong action, and implement measures to tackle wildlife crime here.
If you want to encourage the Government to strengthen its commitment to tackling wildlife crime, contact your MP, asking them to raise these issues with Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne MP and Environment Minister Richard Benyon MP.