Thursday 26 February 2009

On bat crime and budgets

A cluster of brown long-eared bats in a roof void
(image: Hugh Clark)

Yesterday I attended the annual Partnership Against Wildlife Crime conference, writes BCT Chief Executive Amy Coyte.

BCT is delighted that bats remain a priority for the police in terms of wildlife crime – this is much needed given the level of crime reported by our Investigations Project and thanks to the excellent partnership work between the police, bat workers, government agencies and our investigations officer.

The minister's address (Huw Iranca-Davies) was heartening in that he is clearly committed to tackling the high level of crime against our wildlife. However this commitment is yet to be seen in terms of the action which might follow it. RSPB highlighted the fact that the previous Scottish Environment minister’s interest in this area has enabled Scotland to put together a well-backed strategy which is currently being implemented and in which we all have high hopes. The question is, can such energy be galvanised in England and Wales? The minister’s reply was once again hopeful.

It was great to see so many Wildlife Crime Officers present at the conference but they expressed their concern about the low priority given to wildlife crime by the police force. The winner of the WWF Wildlife Enforcer Officer Award clearly felt that he would not be able to keep his interest in wildlife crime if he was to be promoted within the force. This does not bode well for the excellent work carried out throughout the country by these police officers.

I came away from the conference with the question -- how can enforcement of our wildlife legislation act as a deterrent when the fines given out in sentencing are so small? Developers continue to ignore the law and their action results in the direct persecution of bats. Currently fines are less then the costs of an ecological consultant and mitigation measures.

BCT will continue to prioritise raising awareness and training to prevent crimes occurring in the first place, although it is clear we could all do more to address the cases that continue to arise. And as always the great challenge is capacity. I look forward to talking to the BCT team and to batworkers throughout the UK to establish where our energies our best placed in the field of wildlife crime. What can we do best with the extremely limited resources we have available to us?

On that note, today I am concentrating on our budgets for the financial year ahead!

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