Richard Benyon’s speech at the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Seminar.
It’s good to be given the opportunity to speak to you today. And let me say straightaway that I am absolutely committed to doing whatever I can to help in the fight against wildlife crime. It is a privilege to be able to support your work.
I have had an insight into what you do - both as a farmer and as Shadow Environment Minister. And in my time in Government I have been impressed by the activities and achievements of PAW partners. So I am delighted to be here today.
The partnership is now in its sixteenth year. It is an excellent example of the Government’s Big Society vision. People are getting involved at every level, making a real difference in working together towards a shared goal - to reduce wildlife crime. This is important not just at the national level, but also to protect international biodiversity. It is vital that we continue this.
We just have to look back over the last year to see what we’ve achieved. A man who took 14 peregrine eggs from nests in Wales and attempted to smuggle them out of the country by wrapping them in socks strapped to his body - was jailed for 18 months. A quick thinking cleaner at Birmingham airport spotted him behaving strangely and alerted counter-terrorism officers.
I was really pleased to be able to meet the cleaner later on and to thank him personally - and the good news is that 11 of the eggs were successfully hatched and returned to the wild.
A man who tried to sell a rhino horn on Ebay and who had been convicted of similar offences two years earlier - was given a nine month jail sentence. A man who trapped and drowned a badger was ordered to pay costs of just under £3,000. 5 men arrested in Sussex on suspicion of deer poaching were found guilty of firearms offences and given a mixture of suspended prison sentences and community sentences.
All huge successes - which will have sent a clear message to criminals that wildlife crime is not a soft option and that they will be caught and prosecuted.
But we cannot rest on our laurels. Consider these figures:
- In the last two years the National Wildlife Crime Unit received nearly three and a half thousand intelligence reports;
- There were over a hundred convictions;
- Over five hundred cases are currently under investigation.
All are significantly higher than in the previous two years. And this may be just the tip of the iceberg.
The National Wildlife Crime Unit has played a key role in our fight against wildlife crime. It has provided advice and expertise to support enforcement officers dealing with what are often complex cases. It has helped sharpen and target enforcement activity through intelligence collection and sharing, intelligence which provided a firm basis to set our wildlife crime priorities for the next two years.
These priorities are:
Crimes against badgers. The number of reports of badger persecution is rising and now accounts for a tenth of all the reports to the Unit. By working together you are raising awareness and stepping up education and prevention activities.
CITES crimes. This year has seen a step change in CITES enforcement, with global operations tackling the illegal trade in traditional Chinese medicines and reptiles. These operations led to significant seizures but also revealed that CITES trade controls are not always complied with in the UK. We are already working with partners to address this.
I visited the Animal Reception Centre at Heathrow airport last year and was amazed at the beauty of the birds and animals being imported - both legally and illegally. I was appalled to hear of the extremes smugglers will go to to make huge sums of money. They have little or no regard for the effect their activities are having - either on the welfare of the individual specimens concerned - or on the conservation of the species as a whole.
And then there are Freshwater Pearl Mussels. Many of us will not have come across them - but in conservation terms the UK has a significant proportion of the world’s population of Freshwater Pearl Mussels. These incredible creatures are at risk from pearl fishing and habitat destruction. Much has been done to raise awareness but illegal activity is continuing.
The persecution of raptors will remain as a wildlife crime priority with particular attention to golden eagles, goshawks, hen harriers, red kites, white-tailed eagles and peregrines. I visited the Avon Gorge earlier this year and was privileged to see peregrines in flight. It was truly breathtaking. And I have heard they have nested at the House of Commons.
I am pleased to see organisations like the Moorland Association working closely with other partners to tackle raptor persecution. Poaching will also remain a priority. More poaching incidents are reported to the Unit than any other wildlife crime and the numbers have increased by over a hundred per cent in the last two years.
Bat Persecution. Property development causes the greatest threat to bats. Over half of the reported incidents related to development. Actions to tackle this are underway and have been given new impetus by the appointment of an investigations officer.
The National Wildlife Crime Unit has played a key role in supporting the UK wildlife crime priorities and you will hear more about that later. But its role and influence go far beyond that. It has been able to share its expertise and experience in Europe and internationally. I want the Unit to continue to do all these things.
Wildlife crime is a serious concern. At worst it can disturb the delicate balance of ecosystems and habitats and push endangered species closer to extinction. It can cause serious disturbance to rural communities trying to live peaceful lives. It is also often part of serious and organised wider crime picture.
Thank you for all that you have done to tackle the wildlife crime priorities - on top of the many other priorities you face in your daily lives.
There is still work to be done. And I recognise the leading role the Unit is playing. I am delighted to announce that the Government will continue to fund the Unit so that it can continue to build on the good work that it has done.
But the Unit is just one part of the Partnership. Police, Customs officers and other enforcers carry out vital work on the ground - in the face of considerable difficulties - not least - reductions in funding. It is all the more important to make the best use of everyone’s skills and expertise, including PAW partners - through working together.