Wildlife crime is on the rise, with thousands of incidents reported in the first half of 2009, the Liberal Democrats have revealed.

The information was released to Liberal Democrat MP and shadow environment, food and rural affairs secretary, Tim Farron, in response to a Parliamentary question to DEFRA?s Huw Irranca- Davies on 21 July.

The government revealed that 3,064 wildlife crimes were reported between January and July 2009, compared with 3,514 reported in the whole of 2008.

Very few people are actually being prosecuted, however.

Though 1,658 wildlife crimes were reported between April and December 2007 only 88 people were prosecuted for wildlife crimes in the whole of 2007, 56 of whom were found guilty.

?The low priority given to enforcing our wildlife laws is letting offenders off the hook,? said Mr Farron.

He said the Liberal Democrats recently published Our Natural Heritage: Policies on the Natural Environment, which includes proposals to clamp down on wildlife crime with stronger penalties and stricter enforcement.

?Though Labour postures as a champion of the environment, a failure to direct resources properly could threaten the survival of rare species. We need proper enforcement and stronger penalties to clamp down on criminals who are getting away scot free,? Mr Farron added.

Crimes that have seen serious increases include badger persecution, habitat destruction, nest destruction and poaching.

BASC?s Tim Russell commented that it is encouraging to see there is political support for bringing in tougher sentences for people who commit wildlife crime, including poachers.

?Poaching is a serious crime, which affects many estates and shoots in the UK, so we would obviously support any measures that would help tackle this problem,? he said.

The release of the information coincides with conservationists accusing police chiefs of ignoring wildlife crime.

On 18 August, more than 100 organisations led by the RSPB called for a review of how police protect birds and animals.

They said a lack of agreed standards across police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has led to an inconsistent approach.

Conservationists also said a shortage of specialist officers and the low priority given to wildlife crimes means criminals can break the law with little fear of getting caught.

The RSPB?s Ian West said the review should be led by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service.

He said: ?Strong laws to protect our wildlife are a sign of a civilised society, but they are only of value if properly enforced.?

Wildlife crime was targeted in October 2006 with the formation of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU).

Mr West added: ?The NWCU has listed priorities for wildlife crime enforcement in the UK, including the killing and persecution of birds of prey. Yet, in parts of the English uplands and on the edges of some towns and cities, raptor persecution continues at unacceptably high levels. There are many competing demands on our police, but wildlife crime is all too often pushed to the back of the queue,? he added.

In response to the criticism, detective inspector Brian Stuart, head of the NWCU, told Shooting Times magazine officers are far from resting on their laurels: ?Since the inception of the NWCU, significant inroads have been made in relation to the recording and investigation of wildlife crime. Some excellent work has been undertaken by wildlife crime officers across England and Wales in partnership with other agencies and organisations.?

He added: ?I am confident that despite the many other competing demands on their time, chief officers will continue to support wildlife crime investigation within their communities.?

PC DUNCAN THOMAS

Wildlife crime officer with Lancashire police

Lancashire police has a full-time wildlife crime co-ordinator and 7 wildlife crime officers. We have built up an effective team capable of responding to reports of wildlife crime. Last spring we responded to more than 90 genuine wildlife incidents each month and we have secured a number of high profile prosecutions with the assistance of our Partnership for Animal Welfare partners. Since the NWCU was formed there has been a significant improvement in wildlife crime co-ordination nationally and a much more accurate set of annual crime/incident statistics.

PC MARK RASBEARY

Wildlife crime officer with North Yorkshire police

North Yorkshire police takes the issue of wildlife crime very seriously and we are dedicated to reducing levels across the county. We have recently run a wildlife crime officers? course to raise the profile of wildlife crime and how it should be investigated. It was attended by officers from North Yorkshire and colleagues from other northern forces as well as partner agencies. North Yorkshire police now has more wildlife crime officers than ever building partnerships with both statutory and non-governmental agencies. Operation Moorwatch is running in the Yorkshire Dales National Park to combat all rural crime, including wildlife offences. Poaching is also a priority and offenders have and will be dealt with in the courts.

WILDLIFE CRIMES

January to July 2009

241 ? Badger persecution

159 ? Nest destruction

29 ? Animal poisoning

163 ? Deer poaching

22 ? Poisoning raptors

7 ? Release of non-native species

110 ? Habitat destruction

86 ? Fish poaching

49 ? Raptor persecution

21 ? Wild bird egg/chick theft

104 ? Legally set traps/snares

261 ? Hare poaching

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