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A Publication of

From The Ark No. 193 - Spring 2003

It’s a fair cop!

All British police forces have Wildlife Liaison Officers, but the Met goes
further. They have a whole unit devoted to crimes against wild animals.

Based at New Scotland Yard, the Wildlife Crime Unit (WCU) is responsible for enforcement of wildlife laws within the London area, and for taking initiatives to prevent wildlife crime. The Unit also provides specialist support and assistance to police officers all over London, and works in partnership with many other agencies, both government and non-government, in Britain and internationally, as well as providing a focal point for enquiries from the public. (Photo-left - to enlarge, click on photo or link)

The Unit is made up of a small team of specialist police and civilian staff who have been appointed for their expertise and experience of wildlife matters. In April 2001 the Metropolitan Police Service strengthened and re-organised its arrangements for dealing with wildlife crime. The restructured Wildlife Crime Unit is now part of the Met’s Specialist Operations Command.

The laws protecting wildlife, in many cases, do not just protect the animals themselves, but also the places where they live. This is important because many species are most at risk because of destruction or damage caused to their nests or homes. It is an offence to intentionally destroy, damage or take the nest of a wild bird, and in the case of some rarer species it is also an offence to disturb the birds at the nest. Even so, the Metropolitan Police WCU receives numerous reports of nests being destroyed or damaged every year. (Photo-right - to enlarge, click on photo or link)

All British wild mammals are protected from deliberate acts of cruelty by The Wild Mammals Protection Act of 1996. All badger setts and bat roosting sites are protected in law and cannot be disturbed without a licence issued by English Nature, and this also applies to sites used by other protected species such as Water Voles, Great Crested Newts and Dormice, all of which live in the London area. It is an offence, for example, to kick a hedgehog, or try to drown fox cubs. Even if the animals are not killed, the maximum penalty is six months imprisonment or a hefty fine, or both.

As London expands and many sites are cleared for development, the wildlife living there often has to move out. Offences have been committed by builders, tree surgeons, demolition and other contractors. The WCU is working with local authorities and other landowners to ensure that the necessary precautions are taken and the laws protecting wildlife are not broken, but some companies have been prosecuted.

Wild plants are also protected. It is an offence intentionally to uproot any wild plant without the permission of the owner of the land and, for some rarer species, to pick the plants or sell them. See photos centre pages.

Endangered species

It is not only our ‘home-grown’ wildlife which needs protecting. Endangered animals, dead or alive, are often imported into the UK illegally - and the WCU is on their trail in an on-going operation called Operation Charm. Interpol estimates that the illegal trade in endangered species is worth billions of pounds every year - a trade second only to that in illegal drugs. Some traditional Chinese medicine beliefs include the use of tigers’ brains ‘to cure laziness and pimples’, their teeth for asthma, or their tail ‘for various skin diseases’. Tiger skins and claws are also sold on the black market for rugs and fashion accessories. At least one tiger is killed in the wild every single day to meet the demand and 96 per cent of all Black Rhinos have disappeared since 1970 as a result of the demand for ‘rhino horn’. There is a demand for these body parts and derivatives in Britain, just as the ‘bush meat’ trade thrives here. Endangered live animals are also imported illegally, partly to satisfy the demand for exotic pets.

Since the start of Operation Charm, the Met’s WCU Officers have seized over 20,000 endangered species items being sold illegally in London. One of their successful projects was against the importation of the notorious shahtoosh shawls - highly expensive fashion garments made from the wool of the endangered Tibetan Antelope in western China. Poachers slaughtered tens of thousands of these rare shy creatures as the wool could only be extracted from the pelt of the dead creature - and several would be needed for each shawl.

l The Met’s WCU has produced a series of attractive, illustrated brochures each concentrating on a particular area of interest, for example: Protecting the badger; Tigers in the 21st Century; Protecting London’s Wildlife, etc. There is also a series of informative, colourful postcards which they are happy to provide in order to ‘spread the word’.  (Photo-left - to enlarge, click on photo or link)

l The Metropolitan Police Service is committed to enforcing the laws protecting wildlife. If you know of anybody involved in crimes against wildlife, please call the Wildlife Crime Unit on 020 7230 3641 or 020 7230 2704. Or you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.  (Photo-right - to enlarge, click on photo or link)

l If you would like to know more about our work against wildlife crime, please write to:

The Metropolitan Police Service Or e-mail us on  

Wildlife Crime Unit
New Scotland Yard
London SW1H 0BG

Return to The Ark No. 193

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