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Labour pledges £4.5m for wildlife crime which will be ring fenced

Labour has pledged extra funding to help tackle poaching and illegal fox hunting

In its first major policing pledge of the general election, the Labour Party said it would allocate £4.5m for 82 officers across the country to tackle illegal hare coursing and other wildlife crimes.

The officers would be drawn from existing ranks and the money would be ring-fenced from policing budgets.

The most common wildlife crime is poaching of deer, fish and hare, according to World Animal Protection.

Other crimes include coursing, fox hunting with dogs and stealing the eggs of endangered species.

Another regular crime is the destruction of bat roosts which can halt housing developments.

The party claimed that 88 police staff are currently dedicated to wildlife crime including civilian managers and community support officers.

Work is coordinated across the country via the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit which works with individual forces in the same way as the anti-terrorism unit.

Officers also tackle specialist crimes including the illegal ivory trade and the sale of endangered or protected species. Illegal traders in the UK have flourished thanks to online auction sites.

Labour wants to focus on illegal hunting activity in rural areas, particularly fox hunting. Earlier this year, Conservative Party leadership contender Jeremy Hunt had pledged to repeal fox hunting laws but Boris Johnson has yet to signal if this will become party policy.

Labour said that increasing police activity would also help protect farm properties which is a major issue in rural communities.

Shadow environment secretary Sue Hayman said: "We are calling time on those who have been allowed to get away with illegally hunting, maiming and killing wild animals such as deer, hen harriers, foxes and hares.”

She added: "By increasing the number of wildlife and rural police officers across the country we will help protect both wild animals and property in rural communities, and ensure a crackdown on the types of crimes against animals that this Tory government has turned a blind eye to. Labour is the true party of real change when it comes to animal welfare."

The party’s announcement was welcomed by the Badger Trust for raising awareness the threat to UK wildlife.

A spokesman said: "The pledge to double the number of wildlife crime officers in the frontline fight against wildlife criminals is of significant importance.

"The Badger Trust calls on the Conservative Party to match this pledge, to show it is also committed to tackling wildlife crime both at home as well as abroad."

If those officers are brought forward, they will also have to tackle fly tipping plus the theft of agricultural equipment. Figures from the National Farmers’ Union show rural crime has increased by 12% in the year to this August.

Earlier this year, Julia Mulligan, Chair of the National Rural Crime Network, marked Rural Crime Week by highlighting the ‘hidden’ countryside crimes.

She said: “Rural communities are too often ignored by those in positions of power because they’re hidden from view.

“Despite the passionate and professional police officers who serve communities day-in, day-out, we need government and all national organisations to better understand, represent and stand up for the 10.3m people who live in rural areas.”

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