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Summit to halt rare-species smuggling

A "NEIGHBOURHOOD watch" war on illegal trade in rare species and dangerous chemicals was unveiled by the Government yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said he wants everyone to become an "environmental detective", after the success of local schemes encouraging householders to look out for signs of crime in their street.

The plan, unveiled at the end of a weekend G8 summit of the world's most powerful countries, at Leeds Castle in Kent, signals the need for more public awareness about racketeering worth about pounds 20bn.

Tiger skins, bones used for Chinese medicine, rhino horn, elephant tusks and scores of other products from species under threat of extinction are smuggled into Britain - although huge strides in curbing the trade have been made by Customs officers in recent years.

"Lots of these products are sold in little shops," Mr Prescott told an end-of-summit news conference. He also urged tourists to be careful what they buy on holiday abroad, adding: "Sometimes people buy things in all innocence. It's just a matter of creating more awareness."

Environment Minister Michael Meacher said environmental crime was "big business". Live snakes had been discovered stuffed with cocaine and turtles with marijuana. With evidence of Mafia involvement, there is a need for better-trained enforcement officers.

"One of the problems is that many different agencies are involved, and it's easy at the moment for criminals to slip through the net," said Mr Meacher. Climate change, the oceans and job creation as new green technologies come on stream were also debated by ministers from Britain, the US, Canada, Russia, Japan, Italy, France and Germany.

Their recommendations will be put to a conference of G8 heads of government at Birmingham next month.

The final communique said it was acknowledged that climate change "remains the greatest global environmental threat to the world's sustainable development, public health and future prosperity".

It was essential to translate into reality the pledges to curb greenhouses gases, made at Kyoto last year.

Mr Prescott said global warming targets had been agreed and it was vital not to "unroll the ball of wool" by reopening the debate.

Agreement had been reached on an 8 per cent cutback by 2010 in carbon dioxide emissions and Britain would continue to try an achieve a 20 per cent reduction.

The ministers at the summit agreed to:

r Boost international efforts to train officials on the same lines as Interpol's work to develop a training programme;

r Aim to hold a national public-awareness event in each G8 country in the next year, to increase knowledge about the extent of the problem, the threat it poses and how to help fight it;

r Step up the battle against smuggling in ozone-depleting substances, hazardous waste and protected species through strict enforcement of international agreements.