REUL Bill could increase wildlife crime, warn conservationists

Wildlife crime was at record levels in 2021, according to a report by Wildlife and Countryside Link, and there are concerns this could increase even further.

Conservationists are warning that the proposed Retained EU Law (REUL) Bill could mean vital wildlife laws are scrapped and lead to a rise in wildlife crimes.

This includes crimes such as hare coursing, the killing of birds of prey, badgers and bats, disturbance of seals and dolphins and illegal wildlife trade.

1,414 reported wildlife crimes took place in England and Wales last year, according to the organisation, while 3,337 fisheries crime reports were also found . This is down from 4,163 in 2020.

Conservationists believe the actual figure to be much higher than the report findings, due to a lack of official recording and monitoring of data.

black and white badger photo

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: ‘The snapshot in our report is likely to be a significant under-estimate of all kinds of wildlife offences. To get to grips with these cruel crimes, the Home Office should make wildlife crime notifiable, to help target resources and action to deal with hotspots of criminality.

‘The Retained EU Law Bill threatens to be a serious distraction, and could even lead to important wildlife laws being lost. Instead, seven years on from its publication, the Government should implement the Law Commission’s 2015 wildlife law report. Surely it is better to spend time and money improving laws that are as much as two centuries old, than wasting time reviewing effective environmental laws under the REUL bill.’

The Law Commission said wildlife crime legislation was ‘overly complicated’ and out of date in 2015, with reforms recommended.

Several wildlife organisations are calling for the withdrawal of the REUL Bill, as they fear wildlife could be left at risk if important laws are discarded. The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, for example, make it a criminal offence to damage the habitats of key species including badgers and bats.

But 140 EU environment regulations have already been removed since Brexit, according to Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey. 

The Wildlife and Countryside Link has said the rate of successful convictions also remains low and recommended making wildlife crimes notifiable to the Home Office could help. The organisation said this would ensure official recordings of crimes and would allow police officers to plan strategically to tackle criminals. Further investment and the expansion of wildlife crime teams would also lead to more successful prosecutions.

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge


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