London is home to many species of wildlife, from the birds and squirrels that visit our gardens and parks, to more secretive animals like badgers, hedgehogs, water voles and Muntjac deer. For many people, wildlife adds to the quality of life in their area, and many species are protected by law.
It is a sad fact that many crimes are committed against wildlife here in London. Crimes like badger baiting involve cruelty â€“ a badger is dug from its sett and attacked by dogs, often with bets being placed as to how long the badger will survive. Others involve the capture and sale of wild animals, such as finches, which are sold on as songbirds. The clearance of gardens or municipal hedges and trees when birds are known to be nesting is also illegal, as is demolishing buildings if bats are known to roost there.
It is the job of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Wildlife Crime Unit, and the local wildlife crime officers based in Londonâ€™s 32 boroughs, to protect wildlife in the capital by upholding the laws designed to protect it.
Every week, we receive calls and emails from members of the public and fellow police officers, either reporting offences or enquiring as to whether certain actions may constitute offences. We deal with crimes against indigenous wildlife as well as exotic species and their derivatives, such as elephant ivory and rhino horn.
Our first step is to establish if a wildlife crime has actually been committed. For example, we may have a dead kestrel x-rayed to establish if it was shot, have a fox carcass examined to confirm if it was poisoned or carved ivory carbon dated to prove its age. This requires liaison with outside agencies for expertise and advice. We then endeavor to identify offenders, for example, by having shotgun cartridges examined for finger marks. If a suspect is identified we will then take the case forward.
The range of wildlife crimes committed in London is varied; including the illegal trade of endangered animal parts, unlawful fishing in the Thames and nest disturbance to our resident birds including peregrine falcons. Recently, we investigated two cases where separate individuals were selling elephant ivory and other parts of threatened animal species on eBay. The defendants both pled guilty at the respective courts, where they were fined for their actions. Another male received a 12 week suspended prison sentence for cruelty to a wild mammal and two individuals from two separate companies have also received police cautions in relation to the disturbance of badger setts within London.
The Wildlife Crime Unit also maintains Operation Charm, which we launched in 1995. This is a partnership between the MPS, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, WildAid, the World Society for the Protection of Animals and World Wildlife Fund. Together, we use a combination of law enforcement and public awareness education to tackle the illegal trade in endangered species in London. For more information, see Operation Charm.
In the Wildlife Crime Unit we strive to increase awareness in wildlife crime by attending events to raise public understanding and to educate members of the public that wildlife crime in London is prevalent.
For more information on the Wildlife Crime Unit, click hereÂ .