RSPB raps failure to tackle to bird attacks
The Government has been criticised for failing to take "simple measures" to tackle wildlife crime such as the poisoning of birds of prey which has blighted the Westcountry.
Ministers rejected calls by MPs to guarantee long-term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit – led by Devon and Cornwall Police Inspector Nevin Hunter – 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 – the pesticide carbofuran – used to kill birds of prey.
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Two years ago, four goshawks, three peregrine falcons and a buzzard were found poisoned in Devon and Cornwall.
The MPs said the Government should bring in the order listing proscribed 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.
Tony Whitehead, from the RSPB in the South West, said: "Our network of wildlife crime officers do a great job. Devon and Cornwall Police's Operation Wilderness, launched last year, introduced sophisticated surveillance equipment to help guard rare bird of prey nests.
"Last year there were no reports of crimes against these magnificent birds in the county. But these officers need support; often they are doing their work in addition to their normal duties.
"This is one of the many things the National Wildlife Crime Unit can provide and it's vital it receives a guarantee of future funding."
He added: "Our courts need the option to deliver tougher sentences for those that commit crimes, and particularly for the possession of poisons such as carbofuran."
Ministers have concluded there are alternative ways to deal with the issue, such as running pesticide amnesties to ensure remaining supplies of products such as carbofuran are handed in.
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."