Since it was established in 2006, the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) has been investigating countryside criminality including deer poaching, hare coursing, badger baiting, rare-bird egg theft, underground trade in endangered species, illegal taxidermy and cruelty to wild animals. However, the British chancellor George Osbourne’s recent spending review did not allocate funding for the agency beyond march this year, and now the NWCU is staring extinction in the face.
Chief Inspector Martin Sims, head of the 12-person NWCU, has warned that the vast majority of wildlife crime in Britain would go undetected and unpunished if his unit was taken out of commission, explaining that the NWCU is ‘by far the cheapest option for policing across the UK in terms of support to [solving] wildlife crime.’
Well known wildlife advocates have been vocally scathing in their response to news that the wildlife crime unit could be closing down very shortly. Chris Packam from the BBC said it would be ‘disgusting and disappointing’ if the agency was put out of action, pointing out that the NWCU is a ‘specifically trained, unique and dedicated branch of the police force, able to respond to an increasing range of crimes.’
‘How depressing would it be if wildlife crime, which nine times out of 10 means cruelty to wildlife, became more frequent rather than less’ said celebrity ornithologist and broadcaster Bill Oddie. ‘My God, that’s a step back for British civilisation.’
Josh Kaile, head of public affairs at World Animal Protection UK, was similarly horrified. ‘Not only is this a slap in the face to the hard-working staff in the NWCU,’ he said, but it means the British government would be giving criminals ‘free rein to poach, bait, shoot, trap, smuggle, torment and exploit British wildlife however they like.’
Heather Sohl, Chief Adviser on Species for the World Wildlife Fund UK, argued that: ‘Rather than pulling the rug from under the unit that is vital to effectively tackle this criminal activity, the UK government should strengthen its stance and secure the NWCU’s long term future.’ And Steven Broad, executive director of Traffic, observed: ‘The UK government has shown commendable leadership to date in the international efforts to curb wildlife trafficking—it would appear very odd indeed if support for much-needed actions against wildlife crime at home were then undercut.’
According to the Police Professional website, the unit costs £427,000 a year to run, with the Home Office and the Department for Farming, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) each stumping up £136,000. The unit almost closed down two years ago, before getting an eleventh hour reprieve with a new round of funding, but that expires this year. Unless more funding is announced very soon, the NWCU will be on the critically endangered list.
David Cameron himself has praised the NWCU’s ‘important work both domestically and overseas’ but the Prime Minister recently told Labour MP Jim Dowd during Prime Minister’s Questions that a decision was ‘still to be made about the future’.
Sign this petition to encourage the government to make the decision to save the National Wildlife Crime Unit so it can keep up the excellent work it does protecting Britain’s wildlife.