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Wildlife crime now 'too complex' for non specialist police

The country’s top wildlife crime officers have won awards for tackling illegal activity in an increasingly complex offender landscape

Two officers beat contenders from across the public sector to take home prizes from the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW), which is sponsored by WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature).

The awards were used by the WWF to highlight the rising levels of rural crime.

Sergeant Brian Calver from Suffolk Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team has won the national title of Wildlife Enforcer of the Year 2019.

Northumbria PC Peter Baker won a Special Recognition accolade for the impact he has had on animal welfare across the North East.

Paul De Ornellas, Chief Wildlife Adviser at WWF who was on the judging panel and presented the awards at a special ceremony in Milton Keynes said: "With wildlife crime on the rise, the job of protecting nature is ever more important, which is why the officers on the frontline deserve recognition.”

From illegal hunting to importing banned species and egg collecting, wildlife crime is on the rise and the investigations that follow are not simple.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee said: “Wildlife law has been amended so many times in response to new wildlife crime threats that it is too complex for non-specialist police and prosecutors to apply effectively and for the public to fully appreciate.”

The true scale of law-breaking is unknown because of the way offences are currently recorded.

According to a report for the EU, between 2009 and 2014 the UK Border Force made 2,853 seizures in total of ivory and rare species. Some 19 organised crime groups are currently identified in the UK with the involvement of 134  individuals mainly linked to poaching, raptor persecution and other illegal wildlife trades.

There were a minimum of 92 incidents of badger persecution in the UK reported to police forces in England and Wales in 2016 but there were just five prosecutions.

PC Peter Baker has been working with the RSPCA to prosecute pet owners who have neglected, mistreated or abused animals in their care.

Among his successes was the prosecution of a dog breeder who left 100 animals to suffer in crowded cages and with no drinking water.

Another of his high-profile cases involved a Sunderland-based poacher who made videos of his whippet killing wild foxes. The 21-year-old was banned from owning animals for 10 years in April.

PC Baker said: “I’m not in this job for recognition, but because I’m an animal lover and feel strongly that anyone who threatens the welfare of animals should be punished.”

He added: “I’m fortunate to work with some fantastic colleagues and I enjoy a brilliant relationship with the RSPCA, who carry out joint animal welfare visits with us at any addresses across Northumbria that they are concerned about.

“Over the past few months, we’ve seen a number of high-profile convictions and that was only possible due to our effective partnership working.”

Sergeant Brian Calver and other members of Suffolk Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team have focused on tackling crimes including deer poaching and hare coursing.

He helped arrest four men last month for hare coursing after a cross-country pursuit through fields.

Sgt Calver said: “I would also like to express my grateful thanks to all the vigilant members of the public who report suspected wildlife crimes. Animals depend on us to act on their behalf, to look out for them and protect our British wildlife for future generations."

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