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More police needed to protect birds

PUBLISHED: 11:35 27 August 2009 | UPDATED: 11:42 06 July 2010

A FUNDAMENTAL shake-up of policing is needed to tackle offences against wild animals after it emerged that there was only one full-time wildlife crime officer in the whole of the east of England.

A FUNDAMENTAL shake-up of policing is needed to tackle offences against wild animals after it emerged that there was only one full-time wildlife crime officer in the whole of the east of England.

The RSPB yesterday called on the government to conduct an urgent review of legislation and enforcement after publishing another year of almost record bird crime figures.

The latest statistics from the leading conservation body show that there were 95 reports of bird shootings, poisonings, trappings, and egg thefts in the East last year, with 19 incidents in Norfolk.

The charity has criticised wildlife policing laws and half-hearted enforcement action after it emerged that the majority of wildlife crime officers in the region have to investigate offences on top of their day to day policing duties.

In Norfolk, which recorded six crimes against birds of prey such as kestrels, peregrine falcons, and buzzards, in 2008, the constabulary has 12 part-time wildlife crime officers.

Officials from the RSPB have called on the government to dedicate more resources to the National Wildlife Crime Unit and to hire more full-time specialist officers.

They have also urged law makers to change the way game shoots are regulated and requested that the Home Office records crimes against birds of prey, which are currently not included on national crime statistics.

It comes after the RSPB found that 1,206 crimes against birds were committed last year, which was slightly down on the record 1,228 offences the previous year. Only 52 cases led to a prosecution. The figures for the East were also down on the all-time high of 111 incidents in 2007.

PC Jon Hopes, coordinator of Norfolk Police's wildlife crime officers, who is also a Broads Beat officer, said the force was working closely with conservation bodies, Defra, and the National Wildlife Crime Unit to investigate reported incidents.

He added that wildlife policing varied across the region with Norfolk having more wildlife crime officers than Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Lincolnshire was the only force in the East to have a full-time officer, he said.

“Wildlife crime is not a high priority issue for the government and is not a core issue for police forces. It is something we have to do on top of our normal duties, but we will try wherever possible to spend as much time dealing with these incidents.”

“Obviously we are a big county with a large amount of agricultural land where a fair number of birds of prey are always vulnerable and there is a conflict of interest between birds of prey and land users,” he said.

Erica Howe, spokeswoman for the RSPB in the East, said it was believed that many more bird crimes had gone undetected or unreported.

“The figures are high, but they are not as rife or as worrying as northern England and Scotland,” she said.

A spokesman for Defra said: “The government is committed to fighting wildlife crime, and all crimes should be reported to the police. Defra and the Home Office set up the National Wildlife Crime Unit in 2006 to help police forces prevent and investigate crimes, and punish perpetrators.”


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