Wildlife Crime and Enforcement
For the last 2 years, AVA Ecology have been looking at the issues surrounding wildlife and environmental crime enforcement in the UK. Unfortunately, the severe lack of resources at Natural Resources Wales, Natural England and within the UK Police Service means that more often than not, criminals are not pursued or prosecuted for offences. Through requests for environmental information (EIR's), the data we obtained shows that very few wildlife or environmental crimes are investigated and in those cases which are investigated, very few lead to prosecutions.
The main initial reason given by Natural Resources Wales, Natural England and the Police for so few prosecutions is "a lack of evidence".
However, in several cases there has been significant evidence, so what's going on?
In deciding whether to prosecute, The prosecuting authority, Police and Crown Prosecution Service must assess the following:
1) Is there enough evidence against the defendant? the lack of evidence is a real issue and on many occasions the evidence of an offence is removed long before the authorities arrive at the site. However, in some cases there seems to be a definite lack of enthusiasm to investigate crimes, and this is due to a lack of confidence by investigators that the investigation will actually result in a successful prosecution. This could be due to a lack of training or understanding, or a lack of leadership, support and guidance from senior managers.
2) Is there enough evidence to charge? When deciding whether there is enough evidence to charge, crown prosecutors must consider whether evidence can be used in court and is reliable and credible, and there is no other material that might affect the sufficiency of evidence. Crown Prosecutors must be satisfied there is enough evidence to provide a "realistic prospect of conviction" against each defendant. In many cases, the person reporting the crime is unable to provide reliable and credible evidence due to a lack of training and knowledge. For instance, how many ecologists and environmentalists are aware of, or understand the Police And Criminal Evidence Act 1984?
3) Is it in the public interest for the CPS to bring the case to court? More often than not, the Police and crown prosecution service decide that wildlife and environmental crime is not in the public interest and therefore is low on their list of priorities.
Aside from the "public interest" aspect which is solely for the Crown Prosecutors to decide, the all important evidence gathering and presentation can be addressed and improved through gaining an understanding of what is required in terms of "enough evidence", the legalities in obtaining the evidence and through specific training.
In January 2022, AVA Ecology partnered with Northwall Surveillance Ltd to provide a wildlife crime investigation service to private clients, landowners, business owners and wildlife conservation groups / charities. We aim to work closely with the Police rural crime team, local authorities, SNCO's, charities and landowners to try to reduce the current high levels of wildlife and environmental crime and increase prosecutions. We believe that due to a lack of robust enforcement, wildlife and environmental legislation is failing.
We also provide bespoke training in open source intelligence (OSINT), evidence gathering & presentation, surveillance techniques and investigative legislation. (Regulations of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1998)
Further information and Northwall's website can be found at www.northwallsurveillance.com