What wildlife crime? Silly question? Apparently not. After all, if there is the possibility that we will be losing our wildlife crime unit, then surely, we can’t need it? So, logically, we must not have any crime of this kind in our country at all, right? Well, let’s think about it this way, saying we don’t have wildlife crime in the UK, is like saying we’re all out of rain. Nope, no rain here, you’ll have to go to South America for that! Ridiculous right? Of course, but it would seem that the need for logic in this particular issue is not a requirement. Unfortunately, and to many people’s disappointment, there have been rumours that the wildlife crime unit in Britain is under threat from massive Government cuts. Cuts so big, that the unit could disappear into oblivion.
So, what’s the story? How did it come to this? Well, we all know about Government spending cuts and their ability to be slightly controversial at times. This time however, spending cuts could lead to the suffering of our wildlife, as funding for The National Wildlife Crime Unit is due to run out in March. Despite claims that the unit is a ‘world-leader’ in its dedication to stopping wildlife crime, ministers have refused to dispel the persistent rumours that the unit could be scrapped altogether.
Sadly, Britain is also a leader when it comes to the international illegal wildlife trade. According to investigators, more than 400 items were seized by the unit in 2014, with all of them being banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Regrettably, our problem doesn’t stop there, as the unit is instrumental in coordinating police forces around the country, combatting issues such as bird of prey persecution and hare coursing. Therefore, without the unit, these issues will only worsen.
David Cameron has said that decisions concerning the future funding of the unit were ‘still to be made’. However, this is not the first time the unit has had to fight for it’s survival, in 2014 the unit was only just saved when it received funding from Defra and the Home Office. This news has of course outraged conservationists and animal lovers alike. We know that wildlife crime is not scarce in our country, and the fear is that without the unit, wildlife crime in general will increase.
Chris Packham, the naturalist and BBC presenter has said:“The current Government are upsetting a lot of people with their countryside and wildlife management policies. They tried sneak through foxhunting, the badger cull has expanded. When people see that crimes against wildlife cannot be properly policed they will be pretty angry.”
Unsurprisingly, animal welfare charities have also waded into the debate, calling for the unit to be saved. In fact, on January the 6th, The World Animal Protection charity, hosted an event in parliament, which was attended by 50 MPs. The event was aimed at highlighting the problems that could occur if the unit is lost. The RSPCA has also commented, saying that if there is no body to actively protect wildlife and enforce the law, then laws against crime and cruelty are effectively redundant.
A spokesperson for the Government has said: “The National Wildlife Crime Unit plays an important role in tackling wildlife law enforcement both at home and internationally, which is why Defra have supported the programme through nearly £1.5 million in funding since 2006.”
In a case such as this, I agree entirely with Chris Packham, who has labelled the idea ‘depressing’ as it reflects the governments attitudes toward wildlife crime. If we have no active law enforcement unit to protect both our wild and our domestic animals, then where is the deterrent to stop cruelty? Sadly in this country, wildlife crime is a BIG problem. Just to name a few, we have recently heard reports of foxes being killed illegally through the use of dogs, attacks on pet dogs, the usage of illegal traps, a cat killer in London and the constant stream of news about birds of prey that have suffered from persecution. Take away the unit that brings these people to justice and they will escape it. But what is even more worrying is that more people may take part in such crimes, especially if they believe that they are unlikely to be punished.
When it comes to protecting our wildlife, and when comparing ourselves to our European friends, we should feel utterly embarrassed and totally ashamed. Many European countries have sped off into the distance, tightening their laws and increasing their punishments for those who commit wildlife crime, whilst we saunter nonchalantly behind, covering our ears and closing our eyes, acting as if wildlife crime is nothing to concern ourselves with.
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