Page last updated at 04:00 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 05:00 UK

Wildlife crime 'not taken seriously'

By Andrew Fletcher
BBC Radio 5 live

A shake-up of wildlife policing is being called for by conservationists including The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and The Wildlife Trusts.

They say an inconsistent and often poor response to wildlife crime from police means criminals are able to break the law with little fear of detection. But why are so few perpetrators being brought to justice?

RSPB inspector Mark Thomas
The RSPB's Mark Thomas inspects a dead peregrine falcon

Mark Thomas opens a brown cardboard box which has been delivered to the office in Bedfordshire where he works as an investigator for the RSPB, and lifts out the contents.

"It's an absolutely immaculately-plumaged young peregrine.

"It was found in a location in north Wales...we've now got the job of trying to ascertain how this thing died."

It is not a new problem for Mark, who rates this as one of the worst years on record for peregrine persecution.

I accompany him as he takes the falcon to a nearby vet's practice for an X-ray which will provide some clues as to the cause of death.


The image reveals no signs of shot wounds, which would have shown up clearly as white circles.

But Mark is suspicious that the "crop" of the bird, a section of the throat close to its mouth, appears full.

"This could be a poisoned bird," he says.

"It looks as if it's had a meal and then has died quite shortly after that.

"So one route now is to send it away for examination."

This will take place at a government laboratory, but only if Mark can make a convincing case for the peregrine to be analysed.

The number of birds which can be examined each year is limited.

Even if this obstacle is overcome and poisoning can be proved, finding the culprit will not be an easy matter.

"We jokingly say it's like running a marathon, and in the final third of the marathon hurdles begin to appear, and when you get right to the finishing line the hurdles have got spikes on, and the spikes have got poisonous tips."

Last year the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) recorded 3,514 reported incidents of wildlife crime, but just 51 convictions.

Expertise "lacking"

Often these offences, such as egg theft or badger baiting, take place in rural locations, making the gathering of evidence difficult.

Securing a conviction usually requires expert knowledge from police and prosecutors.

Nonetheless, conservationists believe more could and should be done.

The RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts are now calling for a fundamental review of the way crimes against wildlife are dealt with in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The charities say the lack of a national standard has led to an inconsistent and often poor response to wildlife crime from police.

The RSPB's head of investigations, Ian West, says the quality of the police's response to wildlife crime is very patchy.

"If you've got some people with particular knowledge, such as in Norfolk with a specialist prosecutor, you can get some very good prosecutions.

In other areas they don't have that expertise."

There has already been a review of wildlife crime policing in Scotland which recommended the appointment of a full-time wildlife coordinator within each police force area and minimum standards of investigation.

But the chief constable of Lincolnshire, Richard Crompton, who speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers on wildlife crime, warns that a similar review in England is unlikely for some time.

"I'm not sure that at the moment our Inspectorate would be able to carry out such a review", he says.

"It might be put on the agenda for later, but at the moment I know they are heavily engaged in a whole range of other reviews which must come before this one."

Mr Crompton does expect to see an increase in the conviction rate in the coming years, though, and says he will try to raise the profile of wildlife crime.

Mark Thomas thinks that with a bit of extra effort from police and prosecutors, those who persecute peregrines and other wild creatures will be less likely to get away with it:

"We just need to all work together, and work better and more efficiently… that is the way to be successful at fighting wildlife crime."

Print Sponsor

Badger and deer crime on the rise
04 Jun 09 |  Scotland Video and Audio


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific