Each year, wildlife crime enforcers from around the UK descend upon Leamington Spa to share insights and experiences on tackling wildlife crime in this country and abroad.
This weekend I’ve been at the National Wildlife Crime Enforcers Conference to present awards on behalf of WWF to the law enforcers who have gone above and beyond to tackle wildlife crime in the UK. And the winners are….
Law Enforcer of the Year
Police Sergeant Kevin Kelly of the North Yorkshire Police has won the Wildlife Law Enforcer of the Year Award for his outstanding achievements in enforcement of wildlife law this year. Sgt Kevin Kelly has been instrumental in transforming the way that wildlife crime is dealt with in the north, setting up a new unit of 17 officers dedicated to the issue. Most recently, his strong relationships with the RSPB have allowed raptor persecution to be stopped within minutes of offences being committed. Sgt Kelly has also been instrumental in tackling illegal fox hunting.
Wildlife Crime Operation of the Year
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) won the 2017 Wildlife Crime Operation of the Year Award for their outstanding contribution in reducing peregrine falcon persecution in Northern Ireland. ‘Operation Peregrine Watch’ uses drones to keep a check on falcon nests in at-risk areas. The operation has been a clear success as the number of peregrine nests increased in Northern Ireland from 49 per year to 55 in 2017.
This award is shared between PSNI and the many teams that contributed to the success of this initiative, such as the Air Support Unit, local Police Sergeant and Corporate Communications Department, Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group and Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Chief Inspector Martin Sims, head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, has won the WWF Lifetime Achievement Award for his 30 years of commitment to tackling crime. Martin Sims was previously the second Briton in 40 years to win the prestigious international Clark R Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award and his years of service has seen pivotal moments in wildlife crime, including the first hearing for bat roost destruction in the UK, which resulted in significant fines and highlighted the issue of property development and their impacts on wildlife.
His small team currently supports a huge 70% of all wildlife crime investigations in the UK and has been previously hailed as the “animal FBI”.
Launch of Recording Wildlife Crime Report
Alongside all the fascinating presentations, awards and talks at the conference, we’re launching a report on the recording of wildlife crime in England and Wales. This report is written by Wildlife & Countryside Link, a large coalition of UK conservation NGOs, and finds that most wildlife crimes in England and Wales are not centrally recorded. This means that we have no idea just how much badger baiting, raptor persecution or bat persecution is going on.
Dr Elaine King, Director of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: ‘’Wildlife crime officers do a great job. But they are being forced to fight wildlife crime with one hand tied behind their backs. The lack of proper recording, reporting and analysis of wildlife crime figures hampers the setting of priorities and allocation of resources. Animals are paying the price with their lives and criminals are going unpunished.’
Wildlife and Countryside Link and Wales Environment Link are urging the Home Office to make all wildlife crimes recordable in England and Wales, with specific wildlife crime police recording codes; and to produce a comprehensive annual wildlife crime report – detailing trends, identifying priorities, and directing funding and resources accordingly.
There is a clear case for more effective recording of, and reporting on, wildlife crime in England and Wales. These actions are essential to help safeguard wildlife and nature and to enable more effective enforcement. We are seeking meetings with Home Office ministers and officials to discuss the report’s findings.
What this conference has highlighted is that wildlife crime is a serious problem in the UK. We have some fantastic enforcers fighting the battle against these criminals, but there are some big areas for improvement. Being able to record wildlife crime would be a huge step forward. Check out how WWF is helping to fight illegal wildlife trade here.