These are the proposals in the manifesto, listed by the ministry. You may comment on the proposals, preferably with a view to selecting something for action. If you would like this to be considered as a project for further discussion as to the exact action desired, please advise in the comment.

Wildlife Crime Aims

1. All wildlife crimes should be recordable offences using official Home Office codes. Unlike in Scotland, most wildlife crimes in England and Wales are currently recorded as ‘miscellaneous’ offences, which means they are invisible crimes in police records. This is unhelpful for determining trends and in setting strategies and priorities. A recent report​8 demonstrated that the perception that enhanced recording would be an additional burden to those responsible for recording can be debunked, since existing systems would be utilised and overall efficiency would be improved. Earlier this year DEFRA’s Wildlife Minister Dr Therese Coffey claimed there was no need for additional reporting on wildlife crime because the data collected by the Office for National Statistics and the Ministry of Justice was already sufficient.​49 However, Dr Coffey has failed to understand the limitations of current crime recording systems as the data are wholly insufficient to identify many wildlife crimes even at the National Wildlife Crime Priority level.  The English & Welsh governments to publish an annual wildlife crime report, as they do already in Scotland. Now in its fifth year of reporting, the Scottish Government’s annual wildlife crime reports are still a long way from being perfect, partly due to Police Scotland still withholding data on some live investigations.​50 However, these reports are heading in the right direction and their annual publication provides the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee, and the public, an opportunity to regularly scrutinise the Scottish Government’s performance on tackling wildlife crime. Compulsive annual reporting would prevent the Westminster Government’s current wilful blindness to the extent of some wildlife crimes.​51

3.Create a national, multi-agency response unit to investigate all offences that fall under the National Wildlife Crime Priorities. This should not to be confused with the existing National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), which is a police intelligence unit whose main function is to obtain, analyse and disseminate information on wildlife crime 22 and assist police forces with investigations. A new national, multi-agency response unit would combine the expertise of many specialist organisations, including the police, Badger Trust, Bat Conservation Trust, RSPB, RSPCA, SSPCA, Border Force, water bailiffs etc. Such combined experience and expertise would increase the quality of wildlife crime investigations and minimise the sometimes long delays and subsequent loss of crucial evidence created by limited police resources. Some police forces routinely work in partnership with specialist agencies but others do not, and the decision to collaborate is often left to the personal discretion of a senior police officer which has sometimes resulted in the deliberate exclusion of some agencies, to the detriment of an investigation.​7

4. This unit needs to be proactive, rather than reactive, conducting regular unannounced spot checks in known wildlife crime hotspots. Many wildlife crimes take place in remote landscapes with few witnesses and are often not discovered until sometime after the crime has taken place and the offender has had an opportunity to remove any incriminating evidence. Routine and unannounced spot checks in areas known to be wildlife crime hotspots would help to disrupt these crimes and would act as an additional deterrent to would-be offenders. This approach has been deployed successfully in other European countries.​44​,​45

5. Introduce the offence of vicarious liability for all landowners in England and Wales, to make them responsible for wildlife crimes on their land as is the case in Scotland. Vicarious liability is where one person is legally liable for the actions of another person under their supervision or control. This is often used in the workplace where an employer is culpable for the acts of one of their workers​. In the case of crimes committed against wildlife, be it cases of poisoning, shooting, trapping or disturbance, it is often hard to identify the offender who operates outdoors, over large territories and often at night. If however it was the employer (for example a landowner), rather than the employee (for example a gamekeeper), who became liable for such offences, we would be sure to start seeing the numbers of wildlife crime incidents fall. To be noted is that vicarious liability for certain wildlife crimes (some types of raptor persecution and possession of banned poisons) was introduced in Scotland from 1 January 2012 as a provision in the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011. However, a prosecution can only take place if prosecutors can demonstrate that the original wildlife crime offence took place and that it was committed by a third party who has a specific relationship to the person being charged with vicarious liability. However a defence is available if the accused can demonstrate that he/she did not know the offence was being committed AND he/she took all reasonable steps AND exercised all due diligence to prevent the offence being committed. So even with the introduction of vicarious liability, it can be extremely hard to achieve a successful prosecution. In fact, so far there have only been two successful prosecutions in Scotland​52​,​53 (although there should have been more, but legal loopholes were exploited​54​,​55​) so it hasn’t been the solution that many had hoped for, but it has increased pressure on landowners and managers to pay more attention to their managerial responsibilities and monitor the activities of their employees and contractors. The Westminster Government has so far resisted calls for the introduction of vicarious liability but claims to be monitoring the situation in Scotland to see whether the approach is “necessary and proportionate” to assist tackling wildlife crime in England​39​.

6. Substantial increases in penalties for all wildlife crime and additional penalties for crimes with conservation impact and those committed inside National Parks. Wildlife crime can include barbaric acts of cruelty, and can have significant consequences for the conservation status of protected species. Penalties need to be dissuasive and of personal significance to act as a deterrent. However, currently penalties have been applied inconsistently, are too lenient and offer little deterrent effect. For example, a woman convicted of exporting and selling tiger parts only received a 12 month community order to undertake 120 hours of unpaid work, and a house owner and a developer were fined just £83 and £127 respectively, after unlawfully destroying a bat roost, with the owner having previously indicated a willingness to accept a fine rather than to delay work.​56 Part of the problem rests with the inexperience of judges in the lower courts where wildlife crime cases are only heard infrequently and the judges don’t have the necessary expertise to assist their deliberations. In 2016 the Scottish Government agreed to accept the recommendations of the Poustie Review​57 and substantially increase the penalties for wildlife crime. The Scottish Sentencing Council has also indicated its intention to produce a Scottish wildlife crime guideline by 2018.​58 Although courts in England and Wales now have the authority to impose unlimited fines, those for wildlife crimes seldom approach the previously allowed maximum.​56 Sentencing guidelines for wildlife crime in England and Wales are urgently required.

7. Remove all public subsidies for landholdings where there is evidence that employees/tenants have committed wildlife crimes, based on civil burden of proof. Many private landholdings receive funding from public subsidies for participating in various agri-environment schemes whereby considerable payment is made in return for the landowner farming in a way that supports biodiversity, enhances the landscape and improves the quality of air, water and soil. When breaches occur (e.g. a wildlife crime is committed by the landowner or employee), a subsidy penalty may be imposed under cross compliance regulations,​59 although these are complex and there are many loopholes. The percentage of subsidy loss is calculated on many different factors and can be severe,​60​,​61 although it may not be applied if the wildlife crime took place on a part of the landholding for which subsidies were inapplicable. For example, a subsidy penalty was not applied to a grouse moor owner in Yorkshire because the gamekeeper’s illegal poisons cache was found in a small plantation of trees and not on the ‘agricultural land’ for which the landowner was claiming subsidies, even though the illegal poisons were likely to have been used on that ‘agricultural land’.​62 There have been other, similarly shocking decisions.​63​,​64 Where there is sufficient evidence (based on the civil burden of proof) that wildlife crime has been committed by landholders and/or their employees/contractors, the landholder does not deserve to receive public funding and all public subsidies, not just a percentage, should be automatically withdrawn for a period commensurate with the severity of the crime. 

8. Automatically remove firearms and shotgun certificates for 10 years following any individual’s conviction for any wildlife crime, regardless of the sentencing tariff. Permission to possess or to purchase or acquire a firearm in the UK is granted to an individual who is assessed by the licensing authority, the police, as not posing a threat to public safety and having good reason to own a firearm.​65 A person sentenced to imprisonment or corrective training for a term of three years or more is prohibited from ever having a firearm in their possession. A person who has been sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three months or more but less than three years, is prohibited from possessing a firearm for a period of five years from the date of release from prison. For crimes that attract a less significant sentence (e.g. most wildlife crimes), or even when a conviction hasn’t been secured, the police may use their discretion to revoke an individual’s firearms certificates for a set period if the individual is deemed ‘unfit’, although this may be challenged and the decision overturned.​66 However, even if an individual has had their firearms certificates revoked, they may still use somebody else’s firearm as long as the firearm certificate holder is present. Having access to firearms in the UK is a privilege, not a right. Those convicted of wildlife crime cannot be deemed to be responsible and trustworthy and should be prevented from using a firearm for a mandatory period of 10 years on conviction. This penalty would be a significant deterrent to those considering to commit wildlife crime but who need access to firearms for their work (e.g. gamekeepers).

9. A new law for England & Wales to make it an offence to possess specified banned poisons commonly used for wildlife crime, as in Scotland. Legislation enacted in Scotland (The Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005) bans the possession of certain named poisons commonly used to kill birds of prey. There have been over ten successful prosecutions under this legislation and it has proven particularly useful because prosecutions for actually poisoning wildlife are so difficult to secure; a prosecution for merely ‘possessing’ the banned poison is easier to prove. For example, in 2011 a Scottish gamekeeper was convicted for the possession of 10.5kg of the banned poison Carbofuran (a huge cache, enough to kill every raptor in the UK) after three golden eagles were found poisoned on the Skibo Estate.​67 There was insufficient evidence to demonstrate he had laid the poison baits that killed the eagles, but at least a conviction was secured for ‘possession’. However, despite calls for similar legislation to be enacted in England,​68 so far the Westminster Government has refused with a former Environment Minister (Richard Benyon MP) claiming that outlawing named poisons “may not be a proportionate course of action”. Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party) accused Mr Benyon of “putting the interests of his wealthy [game-shooting] friends before the interests of British wildlife”.​69 Enacting this legislation is a no-brainer and should be done with immediate effect.

10. We must urgently address and resolve issues concerning inadmissibility of evidence pertaining to the use of covert cameras to monitor wildlife crime committed in remote areas. When wildlife crime is committed in remote landscapes with few witnesses, covertly-filmed video footage may be the only evidence available. The decision to accept covertly-filmed video footage as admissible evidence in prosecution cases is undertaken on a case-by-case basis and with reference to the specific case circumstances. Over the years there have been several successful convictions secured on the basis of covert video evidence,​70​,​71​,​72​,​73 but in recent months a number of prosecutions for seemingly clear-cut raptor persecution crimes have been dismissed because the legislation has been inconsistently applied. Complex legal argument and, in one case, a seemingly underprepared  prosecutor, have led to the collapse of some high profile cases, including the shooting of a protected hen harrier at its nest on the Cabrach Estate in Morayshire​74 and the shooting and trapping of a pair of protected breeding peregrines on the Bleasdale Estate in Bowland, Lancashire.​75 Statutory agencies, such as the police, must apply for authority to install covert cameras under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA, and in Scotland, RIPSA) as  part of an investigation, but authority will only be given if the activity is considered ‘proportionate’ and when the crime being detected is considered ‘serious’, as determined by the Sentencing Council (i.e. where the penalty would constitute a term of imprisonment for three years or more), so authority will not be granted to detect most wildlife crimes. RIPA was established to protect a potential suspect’s human rights to privacy and was intended to cover activity such as the installation of covert cameras around a suspect’s home. The RSPB, as a charity, is not eligible for RIPA authorisation but has installed covert cameras at the nest sites of specially protected birds of prey, often in remote landscapes and well away from private dwellings, and without seeking landowner permission, to monitor the birds’ breeding attempts, which have subsequently recorded obvious wildlife crime. There needs to be an urgent review of the admissibility of covert video footage in prosecutions and resolutions found as currently the legislation is not fit for purpose in relation to detecting wildlife crime in remote landscapes where the landowner may have a vested interest in the commission of that wildlife crime. 

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http://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/poisoned-raptorsflung-from-vehicle/ (27/08/18)
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68​ The Guardian (2011). RSPB calls for ban on owning deadly poisons. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/nov/03/rspb-call-ban-deadly-poisons(accessed 3/9/18).
69​ Michael McCarthy (2012). Fury at Minister Richard Benyon’s ‘astounding’ refusal to ban deadly bird poison. https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/fury-at-minister-richard-benyons-astounding-refusal-to-ban-deadly-bird-poison-8215803.html(accessed 3/9/18).
70​ Raptor Persecution UK (2014). Gamekeeper convicted for setting illegal pole trap. https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/gamekeeper-convicted-for-setting-illegal-pole-trap/(accessed 3/9/18).
71​ Raptor Persecution UK (2014). George Mutch trial: sheriff rules video evidence admissible. https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/george-mutch-trial-sheriff-rules-video-evidence-admissible/(accessed 3/9/18).
72​ Raptor Persecution UK (2017). Hunting duo convicted on basis of covertly-filmed video evidence. https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/fox-hunting-duo-convicted-on-basis-of-covertly-filmed-video-evidence/(accessed 3/9/18).
73​ Raptor Persecution UK (2018). Gamekeeper convicted for killing two short-eared owls on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park. https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2018/08/28/gamekeeper-convicted-for-killing-two-short-eared-owls-on-grouse-moor-in-yorkshire-dales-national-park/(accessed 3/9/18).
74​ Raptor Persecution UK (2017). Hen harrier shooting on Cabrach Estate: RSPB releases video footage. https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/hen-harrier-shooting-on-cabrach-estate-rspb-releases-video-footage/(accessed 3/9/18).
75​ Raptor Persecution UK (2018). Why the video evidence was ruled inadmissible in the Bleasdale Estate case. https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/why-the-video-evidence-was-ruled-inadmissible-in-the-bleasdale-estate-case/(accessed 3/9/18)

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Lead Ammunition Aims
Wildlife Welfare Aims
 

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Thursday, 20 June 2019