The SHG response to the Wildlife Crime Consultation
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The Self Help Group for Farmers, Pet Owners and Others experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA (The SHG) is an organisation which was originally set up in 1990 to provide support and legal advice to people being investigated or prosecuted by the RSPCA whose activities and prosecutions are often controversial and have attracted a great deal of criticism. That remit has grown and we run a legal help line and put people in touch with solicitors who are experts in Animal and Wildlife Law.


There is no accurate measure of wildlife crime.


Its investigation and prosecution are driven by special interest groups, some of whom are controversial and whose aims appear to be the ending of many human animal activities and interactions.


Current legislation is confusing and contradictory and enforced by an equally confusing range of authorities, charities and organisations.


The Law Commission consultation should extend to cover the entirety of animal law including the Animal Welfare Act. The aim should be to produce one Act which is properly reviewed each time new European legislation needs to be implemented into UK law.


The National Wildlife Crime Unit should continue and oversee all animal or wildlife crime investigations and prosecutions and it should be properly funded by government.


Parliament should not be passing criminalising legislation if it has no intention or ability to fund its enforcement.


There should be proper protections against the sharing of sensitive and personal data with non-police organisations.

The scale of wildlife crime and its impacts, and how this has changed since the 2004 report


It is impossible to draw any conclusions as to the scale of wildlife crime and whether it has increased or decreased without independent records being kept by magistrates courts and police forces.


Measures of the number of complaints received are not an accurate reflection of the scale of such crime as they are bound to be artificially boosted by publicity drives and campaigns run by special interest groups. A result of any particular campaign might be a large increase in complaints about activities relating to a specific animal or plant which overwhelm investigators and prevent them from tackling crimes relating to animals or plants which are less popular or emotive but which have far greater need of protection.

The extent to which UK legislation and regulations on wildlife crime are ‘fit for purpose’ and the penalties for offences are adequate.

Legislation which is as confusing and contradictory as wildlife legislation has become, which drags people who have made a technical mistake into the net, and which is often prosecuted by charities as opposed to the police and CPS brings the whole system into disrepute.


Furthermore there are a confusing range of Agencies, organisations and charities who police this equally confusing and sometimes contradictory range of legislation.


The current range of legislation has grown piecemeal over the years and even the Animal Welfare Act 2006 applies to wild animals while they are in the control of man. The entirety of the legislation needs reviewing, including the AWA.


We are aware that the Law Commission intend to issue a consultation paper in the second half of 2012, possibly progressing to a draft bill by 2014.


An example of the deficiencies inherent in the current legislation is the way it applies to the activitiy of keeping British birds. Demands that paperwork should be kept along with a refusal to accept birds ringed in other EU contries as being captive bred has led to an application to the ECJ on grounds of restriction of trade. Worse, a legitimate hobby has become impossible for many to pursue because of the impossibility of understanding the complexity of the documentation required.


Penalties are severe and wide ranging, including confiscation of equipment including vehicles. While this scale of penalty might be reasonable in large scale organised crime, it is outrageous when applied to defendants who are guilty of petty crimes such as poaching a rabbit for the pot.


The cost of over zealous prosecutions and penalties applied to individuals will be the loss of public support for wildlife crime policing in general.


The SHG believes that the severity of the penalties and the resultant impact on the lives of those so convicted means that wildlife crime should be triable either way, with defendants having the choice of trial by jury in the Crown Court. This would also serve to provide proper records.


The SHG can see no real and inherent links to other forms of organised crime or criminal mindset other than the obvious statement that prohibition always creates a demand that will be filled by someone. It therefore makes sense to prohibit as little as possible.


We observe that perhaps the greater wildlife crime is the insistence that animals and plants at risk from poachers and which cannot be protected in their native habitat should be left in danger of being killed or destroyed. A close second is the continued campaign against those whose hobby or work it has been to keep and breed them. Surely the best protection for the gene pool of each endangered species is for many individuals to be in an enthusiasts aviary or collection, or to be in a circus or a zoological gardens, and for government plans to be developed for controlled reintroductions to wild habitat when proper protections can be enforced or when the particular species is no longer so rare that poaching of any sort is financially viable?


The key question is “Why is a particular trade or activity illegal?” The response to the answer should be to try to find a way of making it legal and sustainable without creating a whole new raft of ‘crimes’ that relate to the incorrect keeping of paperwork. Bureaucratic paperwork offences should never be classified as ‘wildlife’ crime since so doing produces a false impression of the amount of wildlife crime that exists.


The biggest asset to endangered species are the enthusiasts and hobbyists. By criminalising their activities or by making them impossible to carry out legally and allowing a few zealots who do not believe any animal should be kept in captivity to access police resources for targeted prosecutions the inevitable result is the destructions and squandering of that knowledge base.


While we believe that there should be a complete review and consolidation of all wildlife/animal related legislation in the UK we are aware that continuing EU legislation must be incorporated into UK law. We believe that this should be achieved by one Act which is reviewed each time it becomes necessary to incorporate new EC legislation which should then be incorporated into that Act with priority being given to clearly understandable wording.How policing of wildlife crime is coordinated in the UK (between bodies and geographically) and whether enforcement bodies have sufficient resources and powers, and how the proposed National Crime Agency might affect policing of this type of crime.


We note that the National Crime Agency is intended to replace the Serious Organised Crime Agency and that its remit will be wide ranging and cover the most serious and complex organised crimes both nationally and internationally. The aim is to work in partnerships conductiong multi-agency operations. The SHG has to question where wildlife crime fits into these categories. There is a vast difference between organised smuggling of rare animal body parts for medicines and a child who has taken a bird’s egg. We are concerned that there is a lack of proportionality in many decisions to prosecute and in the penalties obtained.


Perhaps it would be better for the National Wildlife Crime Unit to run parallel to the National Crime Agency and for the National Wildlife Crime Unit to oversee all wildlife crime prosecutions. This would ensure consistency. It would remove the accusations of bias in prosecutions.


The SHG is concerned about the sharing of sensitive information and data with non government bodies and with countries whose record on human rights may be questionable.


It also concerns us greatly that independent agencies such as Interpol and the Metropolitan Police Wildlife Crime Unit have become dependent on NGO or charity donations and funding. The SHG does not believe that these bodies should be dependent on organisations like IFAW and WSPA. Can it be right for IFAW to train customs officers or the RSPCA to train magistrates? There is bound to be a public perception that ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’.


The SHG believes that Parliament should not be passing criminalising legislation if it has no intention or ability to fund its enforcement.


By allowing campaigning bodies to bring prosecutions governent has discredited wildlife crime prosecutions in the eyes of the public and those whose legal activities may attact the attention of campaigners. It has encouraged the belief that prosecutions are being brought on a political basis.


An example of the difference between a professional approach and the approach of a campaigning organisations is the case of a ten year old boy who befriended a jackdaw which had been divebombing children at his school. The RSPCA visited the family and said that the bird would have to go. It took the intervention of the police wildlife officer to declare that the bird had become imprinted and so it would be dangerous to the bird if it was released into the wild. Common sense prevailed.

How well Government and responsible enforcement bodies are responding to newer threats and challenges, including use of the internet for wildlife trade.


Claims of internet trade are much overhyped with little actual evidence.


The SHG is very concerned over the current practise of the police seizing computers, telephones and other electronic gadgets and handing them over to non government organisations. If government wants NGOs to be empowered then they should consult the public and openly legislate for this to happen. We should not be presented with a situation where the protections that apply to the police are bypassed,How fully wildlife crimes are recorded, and how rigorously available penalties are applied.


As already stated,there is inadquate recording of wildlife crimes but penalties which were intended for large scale organised crime are often disproportionately applied to individuals for small scale offences.How effectively behaviour-change and attitude-change is being promoted.


The SHG believes that this is not being promoted to any real extent. People travelling abroad are not provided with leaflets explaining what can or can not be brought into the country. There is no radio campaign of education. There is no leaflet dropping though the letter box of every household. How then are people to know of often obscuer changes in the law?


The UK’s role in influencing the EU and International agreement on illegal wildlife trade.


The SHG is disappointed that the UK seems to prefer to encourage stringent regulations as opposed to finding ways to enable people to continue with their hobbies and activities.

Anne Kasica & Ernest Vine

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