Wildlife Crime - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1.  The previous Environmental Audit Committee Report on wildlife crime, Environmental Crime: Wildlife Crime, was published in October 2004. In the past eight years, new threats have emerged, the legal landscape has shifted not least due to devolution and, hearteningly, some of our predecessor Committee's recommendations have been implemented with positive outcomes.

2004 inquiry

2.  In 2004, our predecessor Committee identified the need for the then Government to "re-state its commitment to tackling wildlife crime"[1] and criticised its "refusal to accept wildlife crime as an issue deserving of committed police resources".[2] The Government response to the 2004 Report acknowledged the merit of those recommendations, which was followed by action: UK wildlife crime priorities were agreed for the first time in 2004 to provide a targeted approach to tackling wildlife crime;[3] and Defra and the Home Office set up and funded the NWCU in 2006 as a centre of expertise and co-ordinating point for intelligence.[4] That recognition by Government of the significance of wildlife crime was the major achievement of the 2004 Report. In 2012, the Defra Minister Richard Benyon MP told us, "All areas of wildlife crime are absolutely at the core of our priorities", which indicates that that general commitment has been maintained.[5]

3.  Another key recommendation in the 2004 Report was not implemented. Our predecessor Committee recommended that "a centrally managed, national database which records all incidents of wildlife crime, as well as the details of all successful and unsuccessful prosecutions mounted, must be established as a matter of priority".[6] The then Government accepted that "the absence of comprehensive information about wildlife crime can make it difficult to assess the scale and nature of this crime, which can in turn make decisions about the resources to be devoted to it difficult", while simultaneously rejecting the proposition that "the creation of a new, separate database is the way forward".[7] In 2004, our predecessor Committee also pointed out the threat posed by "the advent of illegal internet trade".[8] In response, the then Government accepted that "the internet is becoming one of the major areas for wildlife trade" and cited the "level of ignorance of the relevant controls and documentation" as the explanation for many offences.[9]

2012 inquiry

4.  Our latest inquiry opened in January 2012 with a call for evidence. In response, we received written evidence from some of the largest membership organisations in the UK, various bodies involved in enforcement and licensing, organisations with an international focus, charities centred on particular species, members of the public[10] and, because wildlife crime is a cross-cutting issue, the Home Office and Defra. In total, we received 57 separate written submissions. We took oral evidence from wildlife non-governmental organisations, the police and Natural England, the Environment Agency and UK Border Force covering the themes raised in written evidence. The inquiry concluded with evidence from the Defra and Home Office Ministers who share responsibility for wildlife crime policy, namely Lord Henley, Minister of State for Crime Prevention and Anti-Social Behaviour Reduction at the time of our inquiry, and Richard Benyon MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Natural Environment and Fisheries).

5.  The background to this inquiry was formed by two events. First, the Law Commission's ongoing 11th programme of work includes a consultation on the reform of the legal regime for wildlife management. The consultation closes on 30 November 2012, and it is anticipated that recommendations and a draft Bill will be published in mid-2014.[11] Secondly, the next Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of the Parties will take place in March 2013. The CITES Conference is the key forum for international action against the illegal international wildlife trade, and its 2013 meeting provides the international arena for action to protect iconic species such as the elephant, rhino and tiger, which are reportedly close to extinction because of the illegal trade in elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger products.

6.  Given that background and the outstanding issues from our predecessor Committee's 2004 Report, we examined international wildlife crime (Part 2) and wildlife crime in the UK (Part 3), as well as the nature and enforcement of the law in relation to wildlife crime in the UK (Part 4). From the evidence, it is clear that wildlife crime is a broad subject with national and international facets. So many different species were highlighted that it is impossible to discuss them all individually either in our oral evidence sessions or in this Report, but our examination of the strategic issues, such as the structure of wildlife crime enforcement and the development of wildlife law, relates to all wildlife, and we hope that those who might be concerned about the lack of references to certain species will bear that point in mind.

7.  Since the 2004 Report, conservation law has been amended in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by their respective Governments. (Environmental law is an entirely devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the Welsh Assembly Government has the power to make secondary legislation in this field.) There are now important differences across the UK in some laws relating to wildlife, while other arrangements remain unchanged: Defra recently introduced a commitment to end human-induced species extinctions in England that does not apply to Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland; some aspects of wildlife crime, such as invasive non-native species, are dealt with at a British level (the island of Ireland has a separate strategy on invasive species); and the implementation of CITES, which involves international co-operation, is handled by the UK Government. Furthermore, successive Scottish Governments introduced the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, which provided us with useful practical evidence on the possible development of the law in England and Wales. The scope of our recommendations in this Report is defined by the extent of the UK Government's responsibilities.

1   Environmental Audit Committee, Twelfth Report of Session 2003-04, Environmental Crime: Wildlife Crime, HC 605, recommendation 3. Back

2   Environmental Audit Committee, Environmental Crime: Wildlife Crime, recommendation 4. Back

3   Ev 92 Back

4   Ev 128  Back

5   Q 54 Back

6   Environmental Audit Committee, Environmental Crime: Wildlife Crime, recommendation 6. Back

7   Environmental Audit Committee, Government Response to Twelfth Report of Session 2003-04, Environmental Crime: Wildlife Crime, HC 438, para 11. Back

8   Environmental Audit Committee, Environmental Crime: Wildlife Crime, recommendation 8. Back

9   HC (2003-04) 438, paras 12 and 15. Back

10   The Committee is especially grateful to Sally Hall, Trevor Taylor, Phillip Onions, Barry Kaufmann-Wright, Judith Smith and Harry Bishop for taking the time to submit evidence. Back

11   Law Commission, Wildlife Law, Consultation Paper 206. Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 18 October 2012