Our Planet
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  National Wildlife Crime Unit left in funding doubt
The government has been criticised for failing to take "simple measures" to tackle crimes against wildlife such as birds of prey.

Ministers rejected calls by MPs to guarantee long-term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit in order to ensure it can fight such crime effectively, including monitoring criminal activity on the internet.

The Environment Department and Home Office have each committed £136,000 to the unit for its running in 2013-14 and no decision on funding for 2014-15 has yet been made, the government said.

In its response to a report by the Environmental Audit Committee on wildlife crime, the government also rejected steps to criminalise possession of the main poison used to kill birds of prey.

The committee found that rules brought in six years ago make it an offence to possess poisons used to kill birds of prey but that an order listing which poisons it is illegal to have was not introduced.

More than 600 cases of poisoning have been reported in the past decade, of which half involved carbofuran, a pesticide whose approval for use was withdrawn in 2001.

The MPs said the government should bring in the order listing banned poisons "to send a clear signal that it regards poisoning birds of prey as wholly unacceptable" and make it easier to secure prosecutions.

But the government said existing laws already make the sale, supply, storage and use of carbofuran illegal, with unlimited fines upon prosecution, and that it is a crime to use a poisonous substance to kill or take wild birds.

Ministers had concluded there were alternative ways to deal with the issue, such as running pesticide amnesties to ensure remaining supplies of products such as carbofuran are handed in.

"It is difficult to see what more the government could do that could make it any worse for someone caught using or possessing carbofuran or other similar pesticides," ministers said.

Environmental Audit Committee chair Joan Walley said: "The government has missed an opportunity to take two simple measures to protect important wildlife threatened by poachers and criminals in the UK.

"It has failed to follow Scotland's lead in criminalising possession of carbofuran, the main poison used to kill birds of prey. And it has refused to provide the long-term financial certainty that the National Wildlife Crime Unit needs, only making money available for the next 12 months."

The committee report recommended a range of measures to tackle international poaching and trade in items such as elephant ivory and improve the way wildlife crime is tackled in the UK, some of which were accepted and some rejected.

An Environment Department spokesman said: "Wildlife crime is a very serious issue and the National Wildlife Crime Unit is at the forefront of the UK's fight against the growing illegal trade.

"The funding we have announced for another year will mean the unit can continue to bring criminals to justice and tackle the illegal wildlife trade both at home and abroad."
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