Government risks giving green light to wildlife criminals

Government refuses long-term funding for wildlife crime units

March 2013 : The British government has risked sending out a message to wildlife criminals that the UK is open for business after failing to address wildlife crime by investing in proper enforcement, international animal welfare charity the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) warns.

National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) and the Metropolitan Police Service's Wildlife Crime Unit

In its response to the Environmental Audit Committee's (EAC) Report on Wildlife Crime, the government has missed a golden opportunity to address the urgent need for sustained and secure funding for the only specialist wildlife crime units in the country: the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) and the Metropolitan Police Service's Wildlife Crime Unit. The NWCU does not have any commitment for funding beyond May 2014.

WSPA believes that these vital police units not only protect UK wildlife, but they are also on the frontline of the fight against the global illegal wildlife trade.

Metropolitan Police Wildlife Crime funded by a charity

WSPA gave evidence at the EAC Inquiry last year, along with the Metropolitan Police Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) - a vital policing team which the charity had to step in and part fund last year amid fears that valuable enforcement knowledge could be lost due to stagnating funds and low political priority given to the issue - the first time a charity has directly funded a Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) unit.

WSPA's key recommendations, shared by the Committee, focused on championing the long term stable funding of enforcement in the UK, the issuing of Home Office sentencing guidance for wildlife crime, and the better recording of wildlife crime by enforcement officers. The WSPA believes that the Government has failed to fully address any of these key areas.

WSPA UK Director of Campaigns and Communications Simon Pope said: "While the UK Government is willing to invest in overseas enforcement bodies, it is simultaneously failing to provide long term, sustainable funding to the specialist police bodies dedicated to fighting wildlife crime in the UK.

"The Government claims to be concerned about animals being driven to the brink of extinction by the illegal wildlife trade, but has lost sight of the fact that our specialist wildlife police are at risk of becoming an endangered species.

"Our wildlife police are up against flourishing networks of serious, organized criminals. If our enforcement teams are going to stand a chance against them, they need meaningful funding and support from the government and they need it now. They also need the reassurance that criminals engaging in wildlife crime will face tough penalties that act as a real deterrent to participating in this hugely lucrative trade.

"On both these issues, the public and hard-pressed enforcement officers in the UK and overseas were expecting and anticipating action. The government has let them all down.

"Once again the government is failing to take wildlife crime seriously. In effect, they have risked giving the green light to global wildlife criminals to continue business as normal."

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