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Wildlife law UK a look at some successful prosecutions. But is it enough ?

Updated on March 3, 2013

Wildlife law at work in the UK

Wildlife is protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 {as amended} and other Statutory Acts and Regulations. However, abuse against wild {and} domesticated animals is far to common. In this article I will review some court cases where successful prosecutions have been executed on the animals behalf. Many of the cases do not make pleasant reading but I feel it is important to know how animals are made to suffer by the behaviour of some mindless and cruel individuals. The cases below are real cases but I have only put the initials of the offenders.

Case 1--Bat roost destroyed. A man has been found guilty of the destruction of a Lesser horseshoe bat roost when he was converting a barn on his property. He was fined £ 2,500 and £600 court costs. The Bat Conservation Trust Investigations officer Peter Charleston said --"Destroying a bat roost is a serious offence it harms bats and puts bat populations at risk" The Bat Conservation Trust supported Devon and Cornwall Police throughout the investigation. This is one of a relatively few cases that has been successfully prosecuted. Bat Conservation Trust received reports of 339 possible crime incidents in 2011 a 12% increase from 201. Most of these incidents related to damage and destruction of bat roosts, with building development and maintenance incidents making up 91% of cases referred for investigation.

The crimes reported, on average 28 per month involved 138 being passed to the Statutory Agencies { as for an example the police and Natural England } for further investigation. The Bat Conservation Trust also works with the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals {RSPCA} who investigate welfare based offences. Until 2010 all confirmed offences relating to bats were investigated by the police and prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service {CPS}. Natural England has now decided to utilise the powers granted to them by the Natural Environmental and Rural Communities Act 2006 to investigate, and where necessary, to prosecute offences relating to breaches of Bat License conditions. in the remainder of the UK these matters are still referred to the police for investigation. All bats including their roosts are fully protected by law in the UK.

Lesser horse shoe bat at roost

All bats in the UK are fully protected by law.
All bats in the UK are fully protected by law. | Source

First ever wildlife ASBO

The RSPB {Royal Society for the Protection of Birds} brought a case against a man at Stratford Magistrates Court on the 17th of February 2012. The man who will be referred to here as MG, became the first ever wildlife criminal in the UK to receive an Anti-Social Behaviour Order {ASBO}

The Crown Prosecuting Service {CPS} told the court that MG was a persistent and serious egg collector, obsessed with taking and possessing eggs, particularly of the rarest birds breeding in the Scotland including osprey and the golden eagle. In order to satisfy the terms of the ASBO application the court was presented with ten statements from concerned individuals including RSPB and Wildlife Trust's staff, The National Wildlife Crime Unit and Raptor Field Workers.

The ASBO was ordered with eight conditions. More significantly MG is unable to leave England between the 1st of February and 31st of August to go to Scotland. MG was also banned from all RSPB and Wildlife Trust land. It remains to be seen if the first Wildlife Crime ASBO is a significant enough deterrent for MG. If he continues to offend targeting rare breeding birds particularly in Scotland he now faces a maximum imprisonment and a fine of £20,000.


Osprey's are targeted for their eggs and young in the UK by illegal dealers who sell them for large profits
Osprey's are targeted for their eggs and young in the UK by illegal dealers who sell them for large profits | Source

Peregrine egg stealer

A man referred to here as JL was jailed for 30 months after attempting to smuggle 14 peregrine falcon eggs to the Middle East had his sentence cut to 18 months following a hearing at the appeal court on 1st of February 2011.

JL of Towcester, Northamptonshire took eggs from peregrine nests in south Wales and was caught by police at Birmingham airport in May 2010 with the eggs strapped to his chest on his way to Dubai. Appeal court judge Sir Christopher Holland said that the original sentence was too " excessive". He said JL had hoped to trade the eggs for up to £70,000 in over seas markets. The judge added that the eggs were "Happily in good order when recovered". Eleven peregrine's were hatched from the eggs were successfully returned to the wild following co-operation between a local Falconer and the RSPB.

Perigrine in flight

peregrine eggs are valuable to dealers
peregrine eggs are valuable to dealers | Source

Illegal possession of wild birds.

A warning came from a District Judge came after he found a Cambridgeshire bird breeder of 13 wild bird charges and ordered him to pay almost £20,0000 in fines and court costs. On February 24th, 2011 EE of Emneth was convicted at King's Lynn Magistrates Court of 13 charges under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 {as amended} relating to the possession of wild birds and possession with intent to sell.

The species involved included Red backed Shrike, Goldfinch, Nightingale, Skylark, Wagtail, Stonechat and Garden warbler. EE admitted during the four day trial he did not have documentary evidence to prove his birds were captive. EE was fined a total of £9,750 { £ 750 for each offence } and ordered to pay £ 10,000 in costs. The court also ordered EE to forfeit all the birds subject to charges, as well as their subsequent offspring. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act !981, originally only 19 species of wild birds { Schedule 3 } to be sold, if correctly ringed and bred in captivity. These birds could only be fitted with the British Bird Council or International Ornithological Association rings which are traceable. Additionally, the person applying for the rings had to furnish details of the parent birds, as a further safeguard.

What was so obvious in the case of this defendant and apparently many others who sell or exchange non-Schedule 3 birds, completely ignore the terms of the general licence permitting the sale of these birds. In this case it was very apparent that this was a deliberate choice on the part of the defendant who had already accepted a written caution in 2005 for failing to supply the necessary paperwork when selling a pair of robins.


Beautiful songsters like the nightingale are very popular with collectors
Beautiful songsters like the nightingale are very popular with collectors | Source

Horrendous cruelty

I conclude with an horrendous story of animal cruelty. Two men were sent to Prison after the success of Operation Seal, a joint Operation between Northumbria Police and the RSPCA { Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The case involved horrendous footage of animal fights.

On Wednesday February 16th, 2011, at South East Northumberland Magistrates Court WL from Lynemouth Northumberland, was sentenced to 26 weeks imprisonment after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to the offence of killing a badger under the Badgers Act 1992. He also pleaded guilty to two accounts of causing an animal fight under Section 8 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which deals with cock fighting and the baiting of dogs with a cat. WL was also banned from keeping animals for 15 years.

Another individual CP aged 23 from Whitfield near Hexham Northumberland was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment with a ban from keeping animals for 8 years. CP also pleaded guilty on two counts of causing an animal to fight. This involved two cases where foxes were attacked while either snared or trapped in a metal cage with a dog.

The complex and prolonged Operation covered all Northumberland { NE England}. It proves how far people such as WL and CP are prepared to travel to gain pleasure through animal suffering. They also showed no regard or respect for animals subjected to horrendous acts or indeed their own dog's welfare.

Footnote--- On appeal the sentences were REDUCED to 21 weeks for WL and 16 weeks for CP in recognition of their guilty pleas. Does this send a strong message to those that carry out these subhuman acts?.

For every case that is successfully prosecuted as far as wildlife crimes are concerned many many more go unpunished. Many animals particularly birds of prey are persecuted every day in the UK, these are often carried out in remote, wild places which is difficult to police. If it was not for the work of volunteers and wildlife organisations and concerned members of the public many cases would go unpunished and many still occur without there ever being knowledge of the offence being committed until an animal is found injured or dead.

Protection under the various Acts is in my opinion is sufficient to act as a deterrent, however, the sentences on a successful prosecution is, in my opinion- not. The investigations and the numbers of people, who carry out the investigations often during the hours of darkness are woefully low and as usual it often comes down to funding. All they can do is keep doggedly pursuing offenders where they suspect they are carrying out their loathsome deeds. I wish them all the best.

I would like to acknowledge the RSPB { Legal Eagle News letters} and the Bat Conservation Trust which were the source of many of the facts in the above cases.

Foxes have been persecuted for decades



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