Reports of wildlife crime have increased in the pandemic-hit year 2020, including schools of badgers bulldozed by builders and birds of prey killed near grouse barrens, according to a new report by ‘wildlife charities.
The illegal capture of fish such as salmon from rivers and the disturbance of seals and dolphins by people on board boats have also increased, according to the report. Plants and mushrooms were also targeted by criminals, who snatched up large numbers of mushrooms and hyacinths for sale. At the same time, convictions for wildlife crimes have dropped dramatically.
Wildlife groups recognize that the data they collect is incomplete and is only “the tip of the iceberg.” This is because the police are not required to officially register wildlife crimes – most are listed as “miscellaneous”. The groups said wildlife crimes must be reported so resources can be better assessed and repeat offenders are targeted.
The 2020 closures and restrictions, with police busy monitoring social distancing rules, may have emboldened offenders, the report said, while greater use of the campaign by the public could have increased the number. witnesses to wildlife crimes. He said Covid-19 restrictions and staff absences also appeared to have reduced the capacity of police and prosecutors.
“Wildlife crime is something that should concern everyone,” said Martin Sims, chair of the Wildlife Crime Task Force at Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL). “It inflicts suffering, damage and loss on highly valued wildlife and fuels wider crime against people and property. It is high time the government intervened to treat wildlife crime with the seriousness it deserves.
The report was produced by WCL, the largest coalition of wildlife and environmental charities in England, and Wales Environment Link. It found that reports of suspected badger crimes increased 36% to 614 reports in 2020, compared to 2019. About half were referred to police.
Reports of potential fishing crimes rose by more than a third in 2020 and disturbance to marine mammals in Cornwall has jumped by 90%, according to data collected by NGOs.
The number of confirmed bird crimes in England and Wales nearly doubled in 2020 to 104 – the worst year for bird crimes since registration began in 1990, according to the RSPB. Buzzards, red kites, peregrine falcons and hawks were the most frequent victims.
There were few known wildlife crime convictions in 2020: one related to birds of prey, two to bats and four for illegal wildlife trade. The exception was fishing, where the sale of fishing licenses to fishermen provides funds to the Environment Agency to enforce its duty to protect. But even here, fishing convictions fell by almost two-thirds, from 2,037 in 2019 to 679 in 2020.
Dawn Varley, of the Badger Trust, said: “Badger crime has been a wildlife crime priority in the UK for over a decade, but sadly this persecution shows no signs of abating. The 2020 hike [was] driven largely by a shocking 220% increase in developer reports interfering with Badger sets. A small minority appear to view badger habitat protection as an inconvenience to be quietly bulldozed, rather than a legal requirement to conserve an iconic British mammal.
Almost half of the UK’s biodiversity has been lost since the Industrial Revolution, making the UK one of the most nature-impoverished countries in the world. Mark Thomas, RSPB, said: “The decline in wildlife is already being felt, and species can hardly afford to face the added pressure of being brutally slaughtered, trapped or poisoned.
David Bunt, Institute of Fisheries Management, said: “It is extremely worrying that fishing-related crimes have increased during the pandemic, but convictions have dropped by two-thirds. Our greatest concern is whether inland law enforcement agencies, the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales have the resources and personnel to detect and deter crime on our rivers. and our lakes.
The National Wildlife Crime Unit only receives funding year on year, and wildlife groups have said it should be put in place on a permanent basis. The NWCU has produced a shortlist of wildlife-related offenses that are being considered by the Home Office for official registration. The groups are also asking for sentencing guidelines; currently there are none on wildlife crimes.
A government spokesperson said, “We recognize the importance of tackling wildlife crime, which is why we directly fund the NCWU which provides intelligence and support to law enforcement agencies protecting our precious wildlife. Those found guilty of injuring animals should be subject to the full force of the law. Significant penalties are available for judges to impose on those convicted of wildlife crimes. “