The Guardian

Wildlife crime surged but conviction­s fell during Covid, charities warn

- Damian Carrington Environmen­t editor

Reports of wildlife crimes surged in the pandemic-hit year of 2020, including badger sets being bulldozed by builders and birds of prey being killed near grouse moors, according to a new report by wildlife charities.

The illegal taking of fish such as salmon from rivers and disturbanc­e of seals and dolphins by people in boats also rose, the report found. Plants were also the target of criminals, who snatched large numbers of mushrooms and bluebells to sell. At the same time, conviction­s for wildlife crime fell significan­tly.

The wildlife groups acknowledg­e the data they collect is incomplete and represents just “the tip of the iceberg”. This is because police are not required to officially record wildlife crimes – most are listed as “miscellane­ous”. The groups said wildlife crimes must become notifiable so resources can be better assessed and repeat offenders targeted.

The lockdowns and restrictio­ns of 2020, with the police busy monitoring social distancing rules, may have emboldened offenders, the report said, while greater use of the countrysid­e by the public could have increased the witnessing of wildlife crimes. It said Covid-19 restrictio­ns and staff absences had also appeared to reduce enforcemen­t capacity.

Martin Sims, chair of Wildlife and Countrysid­e Link’s (WCL) wildlife crime group, said: “Wildlife crime is something that should concern everyone. It is high time the government steps in to treat wildlife crime with the seriousnes­s it deserves.”

The report was produced by WCL, the biggest coalition of wildlife and environmen­t charities in England, and Wales Environmen­t Link. It found reports of suspected crimes against badgers rose by 36% to 614 reports in 2020 compared with 2019. About half were referred to the police.

Reports of potential fishing crimes went up by more than a third in 2020 and disturbanc­es of marine mammals in Cornwall alone jumped by 90%, according to the data.

The number of confirmed bird of prey crimes in England and Wales almost doubled in 2020 to 104 – the worst year for bird crime since recording began in 1990, according to the RSPB. There were few known conviction­s for wildlife crime in 2020.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit only receives funding year-to-year and the wildlife groups said it should be put on a permanent footing.

A government spokespers­on said: “We recognise the importance of tackling wildlife crime, which is why we directly fund the NCWU who provide intelligen­ce and support to police forces.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom