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1st July 2011, 9:55am
Don't change law on wildlife crime, just enforce it better
A badger in the wild Claims by campaigners that sentences for wildlife crimes need to be toughened to reduce offending are misplaced, a leading expert on wildlife law will argue today (Friday 1st July 2011).

Dr Angus Nurse, Research Fellow in the Lincoln Law School at the University of Lincoln, will tell delegates at a symposium of the League Against Cruel Sports that current legislation is broadly sufficient to deal with wildlife crime - and the real problem is that the law is simply not being enforced properly.

The assertion is based on a comprehensive and far-reaching academic analysis of the state of British wildlife law and its enforcement.

Dr Nurse has scrutinised legislation, policy papers and academic literature and carried out interviews with leading figures in government, charities and police forces over a number of years to gain a rounded picture of the effectiveness of existing laws.

His research considered UK wildlife in its entirety across all species and different types of offence, rather than the subject-specific approach of previous studies.

He concluded that the widespread claim that sentences for wildlife crimes are not punitive enough - a view which underpins much campaigning and public policy criticism - is not supported by the evidence.

Dr Nurse said: "Calls for tougher sentences and stricter laws to reduce wildlife crime are misplaced. The real problem is not with the legislation, the problem is that existing laws are not being enforced properly. Even if sentences for wildlife crimes were made extremely punitive, I think it is unlikely we would see a significant reduction in offending. What is needed is an improved enforcement regime."

He emphasised that his conclusion was not a criticism of the efforts of wildlife crime investigators in charities and police forces, many of whom are extremely dedicated and effective, despite working with very limited resources.

He argued the key issue was whether there was a strong political will within Government to commit the money and manpower necessary to crack down on an area of crime which is expensive and time-consuming to address and which ranks low on the list of public priorities for law enforcement.

Dr Nurse found that in many constabularies, wildlife crime officers deal with incidents on an almost voluntary basis while continuing to handle their day-to-day policing workload, although there are a few full-time wildlife crime officers and a National Wildlife Crime Unit that gathers intelligence. Wildlife crime was rarely a priority for chief constables or divisional commanders except in a few rare instances.

Investigations rely heavily on the public and volunteers to identify and report crimes, and then investigators at charities such as the RSPCA or RSPB to gather evidence. There are exceptions, such as targeted operations which have helped to dismantle organised criminal gangs, but these high-profile prosecutions belie the reality that many offences are never reported, let alone investigated or punished.

Dr Nurse continued: "In the UK we still rely heavily on charities for the investigation of wildlife and animal crime. In a sense, Government has relinquished its responsibility for the detection and policing of wildlife crime to the NGO sector. There are historical reasons why this situation has arisen but it's hard to imagine the public would tolerate a similar arrangement in many other areas of crime investigation, such as burglary for example.
"If as a society we are serious about cracking down on wildlife crime, then Government should make it a policing and criminal justice priority. The expertise of charities and volunteers should be used to assist investigations, not to initiate them."

Dr Angus Nurse is a Research Fellow in the Lincoln Law School at the University of Lincoln. He worked for the RSPB for 10 years from 1990, including seven years as Investigations Co-ordinator. He gained his doctorate in wildlife law, criminality and public policy from Birmingham City University and holds an MSc in Criminal Justice Studies from the University of Leicester. His work on UK wildlife legislation has been widely published, including a chapter in the book The Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence, edited by Andrew Linzey and published by Sussex Academic Press (2009). He is also a respected academic authority on UK consumer law, including civil litigation funding and restorative justice.

He will present his paper on the state of current wildlife legislation at the League Against Cruel Sports’ event ‘Protecting Wildlife: A Symposium on Future Policy’, which takes place in London on Friday 1st July 2011.

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