Select Committee on Environmental Audit Twelfth Report


48. The diversity of species of flora and fauna, the complexity of the related legislation and regulations, the number of government departments, agencies, charities and pressure groups involved and the increasingly sophisticated and organised nature of some of those involved in wildlife crime makes good co-operation and effective dialogue absolutely essential. This needs to take place on a number of different levels and between a variety of bodies. Communication and co-operation at international level is vital if there is to be any hope of seriously disrupting the cross-border illegal trade in endangered species. We have seen good examples of cross-border co-operation in the course of this inquiry. Through the use of "controlled deliveries" HM Customs, working with counterparts overseas, have been able to disrupt illegal trade and, in some cases, remove the main instigators of the crime.[69] Working through the World Customs Organisation, HM Customs have also been able to use their CITES expertise to help train other Customs authorities. The NWCIU's remit means that it too focuses a significant amount of its albeit limited resources on combating cross border illegal trade in endangered species and, from evidence provided to the Sub-committee we know that the unit has been particularly effective in this area. Although the UK is not a source country for most of this illegal trade, we are one of the key transit and recipient countries, which makes the international focus of the work of HM Customs, NWCIU and organisations like TRAFFIC, WWF and IFAW of as much value to the UK as it is to the source country.

Inter- departmental and Inter-agency Dialogue and Co-operation

49. Interdepartmental co-operation is essential to ensure that trouble hot spots are quickly identified and resources are allocated to ensure that the problem is dealt with effectively. The memoranda submitted to the Sub-committee reflect a general belief that there is still some way to go before it could be said that inter-departmental and inter-agency dialogue and co-operation within the wildlife community is efficient and effective. In their written evidence, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) made this explicit when they said that "in general, there is insufficient dialogue and co-operation across Government and amongst the various bodies responsible for wildlife crime".[70] This sentiment has been echoed in other memoranda provided to the Sub-committee. Some organisations, like the memorandum from ALGE, suggest that good relationships at a local level are only possible, and indeed quite common in places, because of the commitment of the individual council and police officers concerned but that "there does not, however, seem to be a great deal of co-operation between senior council officials and police chiefs".[71] More often than not, it would seem that effective co-operation and dialogue only really works on a local level because of the hard work and determination of the individuals concerned, many of whom do this work on a voluntary basis and in addition to their normal "day job" and who do so largely without the support, moral or financial, of their superiors.

50. The benefits of the relationships that do work are clearly evident. English Nature report good co-operation between themselves and the Police Service which has taken many forms and ranges from the production of a "toolkit" for police forces, which will give them information about offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as well as providing warning letters for offenders and information notices, to undertaking joint operations on SSSIs using section 34 the Road Traffic Act 1988 which relates to the offence of driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on common land.[72] Similarly, they are also working with the Magistrates Association to raise awareness of wildlife crime and to revise the "Costing the Earth" guidance for sentencers.[73] The Countryside Council for Wales also point to very good relationships they have developed, not only with the Police Service, but also with organisations like the RSPB and the National Federation of Badger Groups.

51. Inter-agency secondments appear to have been particularly useful; both TRAFFIC and the Scottish Executive have an officer working within the NWCIU, for example. One of the most successful examples of inter-agency co-operation, however, has been the secondment of two Police Officers from North and South Wales to the Countryside Council for Wales. We were fortunate to take evidence from both officers and found them to be professional, extremely knowledgeable of their subject and very committed to their work. It was clear that their contribution was highly valued by the Countryside Council for Wales. We commend the work of both the North and South Wales Police Forces and the Countryside Council for Wales as an exceptionally good example of how joint working can benefit both parties and better tackle wildlife crime. More secondments of this nature should be considered.

52. A number of the memoranda we received cited the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW) as a positive step toward realising better working relationships and more accessible communication links amongst those in the wildlife community. Founded in 1995, PAW was intended to bring together all those with an interest in wildlife and wildlife law enforcement. Chaired jointly by Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom and Martin Brasher of DEFRA, and with a membership which includes all relevant Government departments, the Police Service, HM Customs and around ninety other bodies, it was seen as the vehicle for strategic co-operation and co-ordination. TRAFFIC describe PAW as "an excellent initiative that has pulled together under one banner a large number of organisations with disparate needs and ambitions".[74] RSPB also refer favourably to PAW's success,

    "PAW has been successful in bringing forward proposals for legislative change, highlighting wildlife crime within government and to the public, providing guidance and training for enforcement officers and overseeing the development of forensic techniques." [75]

53. RSPB however, highlights what we feel is a fundamental problem within PAW, which is the failure of the Treasury and the Home Office, in particular, to play an active role.[76] The role of the Home Office has been shown to be absolutely crucial in the fight against wildlife crime but their commitment has been sadly lacking. The Home Office must re-engage with wildlife crime. Statutory bodies, non-governmental organisations and those groups, large and small, who man the front lines with enormous commitment and energy, need a forum within which they can exchange information and best practice and bring issues into the open. We believe PAW has a crucial role to play here. The very fact that PAW has a membership of around ninety we believe can be problematic and suggests to us that there is a need to review and perhaps rationalise the number of agencies, bodies and organisations involved in this area of work.

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.[77] 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.[78] 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 public.

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".[79] 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." [80]

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".[81] 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.[82] 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.[83] 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.[84] 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."[85]

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 excellent work.

69   Q308 Back

70   Ev147,23 Back

71   Ev84 Back

72   Ev9 Back

73   Ev9  Back

74   Ev119, 25 Back

75   Ev73, 33 Back

76   Ev74 Back

77   Ev70, 4 Back

78   Qq361-365 Back

79   Ev158 Back

80   Q274 Back

81   Ev93 Back

82   Q255 Back

83   Ev158 Back

84 Back

85   Q102, Mr Williams Back

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