Wildlife crime unit faces extinction over funding crisis

Concern about future of crucial work preventing smuggling and cruelty against animals

A A A

Britain's National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), which leads the fight against the burgeoning illegal wildlife trade, may be facing the axe.

Concern is growing about the future of the widely praised unit, as the Home Office is refusing to agree its funding, which runs out on 31 March.

There are fears it may fall foul of the massive 20 per cent cuts in police budgets which are being implemented by the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

More than 100 MPs have signed an early day motion calling on the Government to secure the future of the unit, whose work, in combating everything from rhino-horn theft and illegal trade in reptiles to persecution of birds of prey, was recently warmly complemented by the all-party House of Commons Environment Audit Committee.

The concern is heightened by the fact that wildlife crime of all types is rapidly growing across the world, with elephant and rhino poaching both hitting new highs in 2012; organised crime is increasingly involved.

However, the relatively minuscule amount of funding for the 10-person unit – £136,000 annually from the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – has not yet been signed off, even though the current money to enable it to exist runs out on 31 March.

Defra has agreed its own share of the funding, but the Home Office has not, and Defra ministers have held direct talks with Ms May about it. But yesterday her department conspicuously declined to give a guarantee that it would actually be forthcoming. A Home Office spokesman would only say: "Decisions on specific government funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit beyond 2012-2013 will be taken by ministers before the end of the financial year."

The NWCU is a strategic police unit, based in Livingston in Scotland, which collates intelligence and enforcement activity about wildlife crime across all British police forces. Recently it has run major operations concerning badger-baiting, the smuggling of reptiles and amphibians, and the persecution of raptors: no fewer than 633 birds of prey, from golden eagles to buzzards, were illegally poisoned between 2002 and 2011.

It is also involved in the British end of the illegal trade in rhino horn, which now has a black market value in Asia as high as gold. In the last two years there have been eight thefts and one attempted theft of rhino horns from British museums. The threat to the unit is being taken very seriously.

The Green MP Caroline Lucas said yesterday: "With wildlife crime on the increase, the refusal of ministers – particularly those at the Home Office – to recognise the severity of the problem and safeguard the NWCU is completely unforgivable."

Labour's Shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh, said last night: "The Government must not go soft on tackling wildlife crime now. This is a unit which punches above its weight and does hugely valuable work, and its funding needs to be preserved and settled as a matter of urgency to give its officers the security they need to plan their future activities."

Grahame Madge, RSPB spokesman, said: "With the future of some birds of prey hanging in the balance, it's imperative that the National Wildlife Crime Unit itself has a secure future."

Operations: whatthe NWCU does

Badger cruelty: Operation Meles

An ongoing operation which brings together all the agencies concerned with badger-baiting with dogs, by gathering intelligence and taking direct operational action. It has resulted in a number of significant arrests and prosecutions in Scotland, the North of England, the North Midlands, and Wales.

Illegal bird trade: Operation Cage

An attempt to stem the illegal bird trade, especially in birds of prey such as peregrine falcons, which can be taken from the wild and sold for enormous sums for falconry, especially in the Middle East. Raids and inspections have resulted in a number of prosecutions.

Smuggling reptiles and amphibians: Operation Ramp

A global operation to try to curb the illegal trade in reptiles and amphibians as pets, which is threatening populations of number of species in the wild. The NWCU coordinated more than 500 inspections and enforcement actions across Britain, discovering illegal trade in animals such as Hermann's tortoise.

Raptor persecution

A high-profile task for the NWCU as illegal poisoning of birds of prey, especially on grouse moors, continues in Britain and has driven the hen harrier, for example, to the brink of extinction in England. The NWCU is bringing shooting interests and the conservation agencies together to address the problem.

Rhino horn

The NWCU is grappling with the European end of the explosion in rhino poaching in southern Africa, which has gone from 13 rhinos killed in 2007 to more than 600 this year. The horn now has such a value in Asia that museum specimens are being targeted across Europe: in the last two years there have been 67 horn thefts in Europe, eight of them in Britain.

Michael McCarthy

Arts and Entertainment
TV Review: Sabotage, a meltdown and, of course, plenty of sauce
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Louis van Gaal looks dejected after Manchester United's 4-0 defeat by MK Dons on Tuesday night
sport
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher re...

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

Primary Teacher

£90 - £145 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Year 3 Tea...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?