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Wildlife Crime Unit gets funding for another year

23/01/2013 11:16:02

Tiger skin coat sized in London by the NCWU

Vital funding confirmed, but only for 1 more year
January 2013. Continued funding has secured the future of the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) Environment Minister Richard Benyon has confirmed, at least for 1 more year.

The NWCU is at the forefront of the UK's fight against the growing illegal wildlife trade. Through effective intelligence-led enforcement, it targets key criminals engaged in serious and organised crime.

Announcing the funding, Richard Benyon said: "Wildlife crime is a very serious issue with organised gangs using the proceeds from illegally traded items like rhino horn to fuel other illegal activities. It's right that a specialist unit supports the police in bringing these people to trial. The funding for another year will mean the unit can continue to bring criminals to justice and tackle the illegal wildlife trade both at home and abroad.

Rhino horn
The Wildlife Crime Unit has been instrumental in the UK in combating the illegal trade in rhino horn, which now has a blackmarket value in Asia as high as gold.

During 2012 the NWCU:

  • provided direct assistance in 175 cases;supported a further 74 cases and provided direct input into 13 ongoing enforcement operations involving wildlife and other criminality within the UK;
  • collated and assessed 970 intelligence logs helped with a number of the 57 cases known to have been brought;
  • supported a Europol project focussing on illegal trade in rhino horn; 
  • supported Interpol projects on internet trade in ivory, on the illegal trade in birds and on illegal trade in endangered species and tigers particularly .

The NWCU is a strategic police unit, based in Livingston in Scotland, which collates intelligence and enforcement activity about wildlife crime across all UK police forces. Recently it has run major operations concerning badger-baiting, the smuggling of reptiles and amphibians, and the persecution of raptors.

RSPB comments
The RSPB has welcomed the Home Office's and Defra's agreement to fund the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) for another year, beginning on 1 April 2013.

Raptor persecution
RSPB Conservation Director Martin Harper said: "The continued support for the unit is great news. The illegal killing of birds of prey is threatening the security of some species, with the hen harrier facing imminent extinction in England as a nesting species. The unit is a vital part of the UK's fight against wildlife crime, and we're relieved these crime fighters have been given a further year to provide the protection our wildlife deserves."


Why does such a vital department have to scratch around for its funding? The NCWU costs virtually nothing to run for a year, yet the government grudgingly coughs up a tiny amount on a year by year basis - Hardly condusive to long-term planning. 

And this just weeks after report revealed that the international trade in illegal wildlife products has reached $19 billion per year, and that the trade strengthens criminal networks, undermines national security, and poses increasing risks to global health, besides driving many endangered species towards extinction.

World Society for the Protection of Animals Director Simon Pope said: "It's good news that the National WCU has secured funding for another year from Government, but at what cost to the future of wildlife crime policing in the UK?

"This short-sighted approach to funding a vital specialist unit ignores the findings of the Environmental Audit Committee which called for wildlife police to be given more long-term funding certainty, to avoid a hand-to-mouth existence.

"Without long term stable funding for our specialist enforcement agencies, the UK isn't fully committed to tackling wildlife crime and its perpetrators. How can an effective policing strategy be developed when these agencies don't know from year to year if they will still exist?

"The only specialist wildlife crime units in the country: the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the Metropolitan Police Service's Wildlife Crime Unit only have funding secured until May 2014. These vital police units not only protect UK wildlife, but are also on the frontline of the fight against the global illegal wildlife trade.

"WSPA wants our decision makers to send a clear message to wildlife criminals: Britain is closed for business." 

Organised crime
The NWCU leads the fight against serious and organised wildlife crime such as: rhino horn theft; ivory smuggling; and bird of prey persecution across the UK. The strategic unit collates intelligence and provides specialist skills and expertise to enforcement agencies including the Police and UK Border Agency. One hundred and thirty-eight MP's have signed Early Day Motion 603 calling for Defra and the Home Office to maintain its current level of funding with long-term certainty beyond March 2013.

The work of the NWCU was warmly praised by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee in its recent inquiry into wildlife crime and is widely recognised as punching above its weight. The Committee called on the Government to maintain the current level of funding, with longer-term certainty, to allow the unit to focus on its core duties.

Martin Harper said, "Both Richard Benyon at Defra and Jeremy Browne at the Home Office have played a key role in securing this funding for a unit which provides great value for money. For a relatively small amount, the UK has a unit with a world-wide reputation for delivering an effective response to the threats that criminals pose to our wildlife. What we now need is for its long-term future to be secured so that it can make strategic long-term plans."

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