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What is Wildlife Crime?

There are many laws in the UK which are designed to protect both plant and animal species. Whilst wildlife law is complicated most UK species of wildlife are protected, to a greater or lesser extent, by law. All of the offences below fall under the banner of wildlife crime, and each one can have a devastating effect on the Derbyshire countryside. Anyone caught committing any of these offences could face fines of up to £5,000 and six months in prison.

Badger persecution

Badger baiting, snaring, shooting and the blocking, interference with or the destruction of badger setts are all criminal offences. Badger baiters commit such offences for pleasure, using dogs to hunt, attack and kill badgers. This is not just a rural crime issue, the perpetrators are often from urban areas and will travel long distances to commit offences.

Badger persecution is often organised by teams of criminals who are involved in other violent offending or acquisitive crime. Badgers are protected animals and anyone suspected of involvement in this type of crime should be reported to police immediately.

Fish poaching

Fishing without a license in private fisheries or rivers is an offence. Offenders take fish from these private waters to eat or, more commonly, to sell on for profit. Have you ever been offered cheap salmon, trout or other fish by someone? They may be poachers. If you suspect it – report it.

Raptor persecution

Species such as peregrines, goshawks and buzzards have historically nested in Derbyshire but numbers are in decline due to persecution. This can be in a variety of ways, including trapping, shooting and lacing animal carcasses with poison, which will kill any birds or other animals that feed on them.

It is illegal to disturb birds of prey during nesting season, typically in late winter and early spring. Nest disruption can be simply walking or working in a known nesting area; heather burning, repeated use of machinery such as quad bikes and use of forestry equipment. Offenders also target the nests after they have been made, pulling them out of trees and smashing eggs. All of these are criminal offences.

All wild birds are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. However some birds are given an increased level of protection by their inclusion on Schedule 1 of the act. A list of Schedule 1 birds can be found below:

Schedule 1 Birds

Schedule 1 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 lists birds which are protected by special penalties.

At all times

Common Names (the scientific names are listed in the Act alongside these names)
Bittern and Little Bittern
Bunting, Lapland Bunting and Snow Bunting
Buzzard, Honey
Crake, Spotted
Crossbills (all species)
Curlew, Stone
Divers (all species)
Duck, Long-tailed
Eagles: Golden and White-tailed
Falcon, Gyr
Godwit, Black-tailed
Grebes: Black-necked and Slavonian
Gulls: Little and Mediterranean
Harriers (all species)
Heron, Purple
Kite, Red
Oriole, Golden
Owls: Barn and Snowy
Petrel, Leach's
Phalarope, Red-necked
Plovers: Kentish and Little Ringed
Quail, Common
Redstart, Black
Rosefinch, Scarlet
Sandpipers: Green, Purple and Wood
Scoters: Common and Velvet
Shrike, Red-backed
Stilt, Black-winged
Stint, Temminck's
Swans: Bewick's and Whooper
Terns: Black, Little and Roseate
Tits: Bearded and Crested
Treecreeper, Short-toed
Warblers: Cetti's, Dartford, Marsh and Savi's

During the close season

Common Names (Scientific names in brackets)
Goldeneye (Bucephalaclangula)
Goose, Greylag in Outer Hebrides, Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross only (Anseranser)
Pintail (Anasacuta)

Trade in endangered species

It is also an offence to pick, uproot or destroy wild plant life such as mosses, lichens, fungi and algae. These are protected under CITES - the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora. CITES also covers the import and export of endangered species, whether live or dead including parts of such animals or plants. Anyone suspected of being involved in illegal trade of endangered species should be reported to police.

Bat persecution

Bat populations have significantly declined in the UK, therefore these animals and their roosts are fully protected by the law. It is an offence to take, kill or injure a bat or to sell a bat whether it is dead or alive.

Development and demolition of older buildings and renovations to roof spaces have posed problems to the bats who roost in these spaces. It is an offence to destroy, damage, disturb, or block access to a bat roost, occupied or not, even if it is located within a private house. If you suspect someone is illegally engaging in any of these activities, then report it. 

Illegal poaching

This can involve people or groups travelling onto land to shoot animals including rabbits, hares, deer, pheasants, grouse and other game animals. Poachers often use 4x4 vehicles, a number of dogs and firearms when poaching and people should consider their own safety if they suspect a group or individual of committing this offence. It is also illegal to sell game without a license.

Other wildlife crimes

Other wildlife offences include;

  • Disturbing any nesting bird.
  • Keeping a bird of prey without a licence.
  • Stealing or collecting any wild birds eggs.
  • Keeping a dead bird or parts of a dead bird.
  • Illegally trapping or snaring wild animals and birds.
  • Fishing without a licence and in close seasons. 

National Wildlife Crime Unit

The National Wildlife Crime Unit supports police forces throughout the UK in preventing and detecting wildlife crime. The unit has a team of specialist officers who provide assistance with investigations. For more information, please see the links section.

What Is Wildlife CrimePicture credit: NPAS Ripley

Do you need a quick answer to a general question? Then we recommend you visit the national Ask The Police web site.