Dialogue with the public
54. The culmination of effective dialogue and co-operation
between the various government departments, agencies and organisations
should be the successful communication of what has been decided,
what is lawful and what is not, with the public at large. In their
written evidence RSPB refer to a Government Campaign entitled
"Campaign against Illegal Wildlife Poisoning" which
was intended to raise the profile of illegal poisoning and to
encourage the public to report such incidents. RSPB do not consider
this to have been a successful campaign: not only did the number
of birds of prey killed annually by poisoning not decrease, it
has actually doubled since 1997.
We have already reported on the scale and impact of the threat
to birds of prey, and to Hen Harriers in particular, but perhaps
the failure of this campaign was most graphically demonstrated
in August of this year when a gamekeeper in Scotland pleaded guilty
to poisoning 20 birds of prey, among them buzzards, a goshawk
and a tawny owl. The fine imposed for what was being described
as Scotland's worst wildlife crime was just £5,500. We
believe that dialogue with the general public has been rather
hit and miss and, for the most part, the Government and, to a
certain extent, those working in the wildlife community, has failed
to achieve effective communication.
55. Similarly, WWF referred to a Souvenir Alert campaign
they have run jointly with HM Customs and DEFRA.
The campaign is aimed at anyone tempted to bring back souvenirs
made from endangered species and warns of the consequences should
this happen. However, with ivory continuing to feature in the
top ten seizures list it is clear that this has not been a tremendously
successful campaign. WWF have said that one of the problems has
been in bringing these leaflets to the notice of the British travelling
public, the point of purchase being largely outside of their control
and the point of arrival in the UK being far too late in the process.
We understand that WWF-UK have approached the travel industry
in an attempt to get the campaign leaflets into the hands of the
traveller at the point of ticket purchase but have been rebuffed
on two counts, the first that the travel industry did not want
any negative connotations attached to travel, the second that
they wanted to brand the campaign themselves which was logistically
impossible. We cannot accept the travel industry argument
that to hand out leaflets warning their customers of the consequences
of purchasing illegal products whilst on holiday will somehow
reflect badly on the travel industry itself. This is clearly
nonsense. The Department for Trade and Industry should engage
the travel industry in discussing how best to get this, and possibly
other important campaign leaflets, into the hands of the travelling
56. There are also other opportunities to inform
and educate the public which we believe have not been fully considered.
In their written evidence, Plantlife International warned that
"the second biggest threat to biodiversity, after habitat
destruction, is invasive non-native species".
We have already referred to some of the more obvious examples
of this phenomenon, but there are many more less well-known and
understood dangers. The last few years has seen a resurgence
of interest in home gardening. The enormous popularity of certain
home improvement and gardening television programmes, such as
"Ground Force" has seen interior design move from the
more traditional living spaces within the home, to encompass the
garden too. Not only has this seen the introduction of decking,
for example, into many gardens, which in itself can have all sorts
of implications for the native wildlife normally resident there,
but this trend has also meant the introduction of some non-native
species of plants which are simply not compatible with our own
native species. In oral evidence DEFRA said,
"We do think that gardening is a significant
risk area for bringing non-native plants into the country, perfectly
legally but which can cause significant damage if they are then
planted in the wild or escape in some way into the wild."
57. In their written evidence DEFRA also make the
point that "much of the problem arises not from deliberate
criminal activity but from inadvertent actions, such as the disposal
of pond or garden waste containing unidentified problem species".
We believe that these programmes could provide the perfect vehicle
for communicating with and educating the public, whether it is
about the legal requirements relating to whatever species is being
discussed, or more generally about the impact and consequences
of their own actions. We raised this with DEFRA at oral evidence
session in relation to programmes like "Bargain Hunt"
where, for example, an antique made from ivory might be featured
which would, we believe, present a perfect opportunity to provide
a quick information point about the purchase of goods made from
ivory. We were
encouraged by DEFRAs willingness to consider using the popular
media as a means of communicating with and educating the public
and would urge them to encourage programme makers to include useful
information about relevant current legislation and the possible
impact of certain behaviour within the body of their programmes.
58. DEFRA are also using a slightly different approach
by targeting the source of some of the non-native species of both
flora and fauna that are flourishing so rapidly in gardens across
the country. An example of this may be the deadly Red Leg virus
which is decimating native common frog populations. Many experts
believe that the massive increase in this disease has brought
the common frog to the brink of extinction and as frogs are an
essential part of the food chain for predators such as foxes,
stoats and buzzards, the impact will be felt more widely. Whilst
it is still not clear how Red Leg entered Britain, one theory
is that it was brought in by tropical fish or other amphibians
bred for garden centres which are then introduced to garden ponds.
DEFRA are in the process of developing a Code of Practice for
the horticultural sector and have formed a working group, which
includes representatives form other Government departments as
well as, for example, the Royal Horticultural Society and the
Garden Centres Association, to take this work forward. We understand
that the thrust of this Code of Practice will be to educate those
involved in the horticultural sector about, effectively, doing
the right thing rather than warning against doing anything illegal.
We urge DEFRA to ensure that the Code of Practice for the horticultural
sector is not simply an information leaflet to be ignored but
that it has some requirement for compliance built into it which
is then backed up by a proper monitoring process.
59. We have heard some very encouraging evidence
of attempts to get out into the community and educate the public
about what they can do, both to protect wildlife and to prevent
wildlife crime. Plantlife International cite the PAW campaign,
"Stolen from the Wild", which is aimed at raising awareness
of the little talked about crime of stealing wild plants such
as bluebells and snowdrops, as a good example of a well-coordinated
and relevant campaign.
DEFRA's dialogue with the Antique Dealers' Association and their
recent attendance at a large antiques fair at Olympia demonstrate
that they are trying to be proactive and inventive in the way
in which they make contact with certain trade groups and the public.
We commend DEFRA for their initiative and encourage them to continue
to make these potentially very valuable communication links.
60. We believe that the Durham Police Service initiative,
called "Get Hooked on Fishing", is also a particularly
good example of an effective public relations campaign.
This was brought to our attention by the Environment Agency,
who described it as an example of "best practice" which
involved a partnership between Durham Constabulary, the Agency,
the local authorities and angling organisations and it is now
spreading. They explained that :
"it is looking at identifying those youngsters
in a locality who potentially are vulnerable to getting involved
in crime, and then providing the opportunity to engage in a programme
of fishing development, something that is of interest to them
getting out in the countryside and enjoying angling."
We believe the "Get Hooked on Fishing"
campaign has benefits to both the environment, the individuals
concerned and the community at large. We would encourage other
local authorities and police forces to emulate this campaign in
their own areas and to use the same principles for other areas
of wildlife crime. We commend the Durham Constabulary for their