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Irish Wildlife Crime Conference 2013

Comhdháil Coireacht Fiadhúlra na hÉireann


 

WRI Wildlife Crime Conference – Plenary Session : Conference Conclusions

The purpose of the conference was not only to inform delegates and to set up links between the different agencies and interest groups, but also to draw out wisdom, advice and a route forward from the knowledge of the delegates themselves.

Maurice Eakin, District Conservation Officer with the NPWS led and facilitated the Sunday afternoon plenary discussion session in which the delegates were randomly distributed at the start of the afternoon to ten tables and each table was asked to produce a list of topics that they felt were important for later discussion.   The ten lists were compiled into a list of topics that fell generally into five categories:  Education ; Legal ; Collaboration ; Information Management ; Actions.  

Discussion

At the final session of the conference the delegates re-assembled to the tables and each table was allocated a topic – two tables for each of the five topics.  Following discussions amongst themselves, each table had a spokesperson address their discussion topic.

NB - The comments below are a reflection of what was said on the day and therfore does not mean that the information contained in the statements is necessarily correct.

The initial topic lists and the points raised through subsequent discussion and in written submissions included:

Education

  • Education – about crime types- to public and services, and gun clubs
    • Education programmes for farmers, schools, landscape and development planners, judges (law enforcers)
    • Inform people that there is a legal requirement for rehabilitation licences
    • Highlight consequences of wildlife crime – scale, scope, and impact on wildlife, biodiversity and the economy
    • Create a module in veterinary curriculum
  • Training in the gathering of wildlife crime evidence for An Garda Síochána; NPWS; NGOs
  • Wildlife training Templemore (gardaí and NPWS)
  • Encourage reporting (with anonymity)
  • What to do if –  you come across crime or if a crime casualty comes into the vet clinic

The consensus was that educating the public, and in particular the next generation – children – about the value of wildlife and the environment, and that wildlife crime exists and how devastating it can be, is essential if there is to be the necessary public pressure to make politicians (the government) take the issue sufficiently seriously.  It is only if the government is serious about the subject that all the other agencies and the local authorities and the school / college / veterinary education will be pressurised and funded to educate and act.   It has to become “something that matters to people”.

A few comments that were echoed by many are:

“There is a lack of public understanding – this is important as almost all reports of wildlife crime are unsolicited, i.e. agencies do not pro-actively detect wildlife crime and rely almost completely on the public to report suspected incidents.  Most people do not know what to do, or who to report incidents to.”   And similarly, “There is a lack of public confidence – many people don’t bother to report suspicious activity because they do not believe that they will be taken seriously or that the agencies will act on it.  There is also a climate of fear attached to reporting wrongdoers.  Many people feel that the futility of reporting is not worth the risk of retribution from the perpetrators.”

Training is another vital aspect of education – specialist training for all those involved in preventing and detecting wildlife crime.   There was consensus that the training of the gardaí in wildlife and wildlife crime was inadequate and the knowledge/training in the NPWS about legal and crime detection / recording was inadequate.  It was suggested that as well as cross training between these organisations, there might be a role for agencies - NGOs etc - to offer reciprocal training and educational initiatives.

There was a call for more hands-on training for vets in wildlife work, in particular being able to spot wildlife crime and its signs and knowing what constituted a crime.

Looking outside Ireland to the position in Scotland, Alan Stewart pointed out that:
“So far as the investigation of wildlife crime [in Scotland] is concerned, there is a now a wildlife crime unit. This is co-ordinated by a detective sergeant, and has five police officers in full time positions as wildlife crime liaison officers, with another nine in that role part-time. To augment this core team there are another 60 or so part-time wildlife crime officers. These police officers have all had specialised training, have suitable clothing and equipment for outdoor work, and carry out their wildlife crime investigations in addition to their general policing duties.
Training for the role is important, and in Scotland several courses are run at the Scottish Police College every year. In addition, in Scotland, there are three specialist wildlife prosecutors. These procurators fiscal (who are the independent public prosecutors in Scotland) receive all cases that relate to wildlife crime, animal welfare and environmental crime, and prosecute most of them in court.”


Discussion about the costs of education and training, and resourcing led to discussion about funding.  The consensus was that extra funding was unlikely in the current climate and that the initiatives would have to result from efficiency savings and more imaginative use of resources, including closer collaboration and sharing of resource between all the agencies.   An observation expressed was that there was ‘species differentiation’ in funding: “Animals of ‘monetary value’ such as fish, deer, etc. receive higher priority and attention. Many of these (like some deer and pheasants and fish) are probably more accurately classed as farmed rather than wild animals. Predators such as badgers, raptors, otters etc. get the worse deal.”

Legal

  • Define wildlife crime – trading, habitat, hunting, pets
  • Professional and private legal advice to be made available to NPWS to prosecute offences
  • Training of the judiciary
  • Legislation
    • Strengthening legal basis of wildlife crime
    • Date for commencement of section 36 of wildlife (Amendment) act
  • Local Council’s must adherence to wildlife act
  • Register of expert witnesses

The delegates strongly endorsed the need to better define ‘what is a wildlife crime’.  There need to be clearer and more precise definitions and more consistent penalties.
Lack of clarity encourages the defence that “I didn’t know that it was illegal”.
The offence of ‘vicarious liability’ would be welcomed to avoid the defence of a plea of ignorance for wildlife crimes.
The lack of clarity also allows double standards – for example Councils may decide it is in the public interest to cut down hedges and drain lakes, yet this is to the serious detriment of wildlife and may be a crime.

Collaboration

  • PAW (Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime) group for all Ireland
  • Planned joint operations to combat wildlife crime
  • Information gathering and sharing, between NGO’s and enforcement agencies
  • Statistics on prosecutions
  • Cross border cooperation – NGO’s, NPWS, gardaí

There was endorsement of the initiative to seek to link into PAW Northern Ireland.
There was also a view that although collaboration could (and does) happen on an ad hoc basis, it can only really be effective if there is a well defined and publicised focus for the collaboration, and this is something that needs a government initiative to create.

There was re-statement of the importance of bringing in public awareness and pressure – public awareness so that individuals and organisations can take ownership of the responsibility to tackle wildlife crime and prevention.   Providing the statistics on prosecutions would enable the public to keep pressure on the services to tackle the problem.

Others commented that there is no clear division of responsibilities between the agencies, leading to attempts to shift responsibility.  Everyone needs to know if a problem should be dealt with by them or by/with someone else.  It was also felt that there was poor inter-agency communication/cooperation, and similarly poor intelligence gathering structures – intelligence on wildlife crime needs to be recorded and shared, not just the reported crime ‘incidents’.

Information Management

  • Establish knowledge databases – vet input and information on crime
    • Poison database
    • Snare and traps information
    • Forensic signs
    • How to report crimes
  • Dedicated wildlife liaison officer for the gardaí– single point of contact (SPOC)
  • Mobile phone APP to report incidents

There was strong endorsement for the need for dedicated wildlife liaison officers – within the gardaí, also serving the NGO’s and the public.
Delegates queried whether perhaps the PAW structure could provide a resource for information sharing if Southern Ireland joined this organisation.

It was suggested that leaflets and information packs would be good for general education about poisons; snares; forensic signs; how to report crimes.
It was also felt that there should be an (internal) database of wildlife crime cases shared between the NPWS and the gardaí.
In general it was felt that it should be made easier for the public to report wildlife crime – including through mobile phones or on-line.

Actions

  • Media awareness campaign to raise profile of wildlife rescue/rehabilitation - show that there is a big picture in relation to wildlife crime
  • Political lobbying and obtain ministerial and senior officials’ endorsement
  • Creation of community wardens
  • Forensic science capability for NPWS - contract with gardaí?
  • Funding – fines from wildlife go back to fighting wildlife crime

The actions arising out of the conference are noted in all the subjects detailed above, but delegates came back to the need to raise the whole profile of wildlife crime in the public awareness, particularly for urban dwellers that are least aware of the problem.  The use of media and social media was emphasised and there was a call for there to be a national Press Office in the NPWS to react more quickly to media stories which are anti-wildlife or anti-conservation before the media have moved on to the next topic.

Political lobbying was felt to be important but by the NGOs.  It was important to remember that this must be strictly evidential based.  The largest NGOs are likely to carry the greatest weight with the politicians.
The advantages of, and advances in, DNA forensic evidence led delegates to call strongly for proper forensic science facilities to be made available to aid the fight against wildlife crime.

As always, a problem is funding.  Funding from prosecutions was not felt relevant but there was a suggestion to investigate the practicability of on-the-spot fines for certain wildlife crimes.

On a more positive note it was noted that: 
“To a great extent the structures and systems to deal with wildlife crime are in place (on paper) but most of the time they simply don’t work.  Identifying and resolving the problem areas would help.  It’s nothing new – just fixing what’s already there.”

And most of the delegates and speakers had made reference to the fact that at least, first the first time, there was an Irish wildlife crime conference that had brought together a very large number of different agencies and interests with the combined interest and determination to tackle wildlife crime in Ireland.

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