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Wildlife, Rural and Heritage Crime

Each CPS Area has a crown prosecutor dedicated to act as a Wildlife, Rural and Heritage Crime Coordinator to ensure the specialist knowledge needed to prosecute such offending is readily available. The coordinators work closely with specialist officers from their local police forces as well as officers from the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU).

The CPS senior Wildlife, Rural and Heritage Crime Champion chairs a regular Community Involvement Panel with various non-governmental organisations with an interest in tackling all forms of wildlife, rural and heritage crime. This meeting examines current trends in relation to the commission of these crimes and the response of criminal justice agencies to such offending.

Wildlife Crime

Wildlife crime can be defined as any action which contravenes current legislation governing the protection of wild animals and plants. This includes:

  • Hare coursing, fish and deer poaching
  • Illegal badger persecution including baiting, shooting, snaring, lamping, poisoning and the interference of badger setts
  • Bat persecution
  • Bird of prey persecution through poisoning, trapping, shooting, disturbance of nest and/or theft of chicks, egg theft/collection
  • The trade in ivory, tortoises, and other protected species covered by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) including caviar, Traditional Chinese Medicines, and orchids, and the non-registration of certain birds and animals that require licensing through DEFRA/Animal and Plant Health Agency if kept in captivity or sold.

The remit of Wildlife Crime does not include incidents involving domestic animals such as dogs (other than dogs being used to hunt mammals), cats, rabbits, budgies, etc and doesn’t include wild animals that have been involved in road traffic accidents.

The CPS works closely with the police, the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and other interested organisations to tackle all types of wildlife crime. The CPS sits on a number of working groups to tackle wildlife crime including the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW UK) and the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s (NWCU) UK Tasking and Coordinating Group (UKTCG).

Wildlife crime priorities

The setting of wildlife crime priorities is done by the UK Tasking and Coordination Group (UKTCG) chaired by the NPCC (National Police Chiefs' Council) lead for wildlife crime. Their decisions are based upon recommendations contained within a Strategic Assessment, which is prepared by the NWCU. The resultant priority areas are the ones which have been assessed as posing the greatest current threat to either the conservation status of a species or which show the highest volume of crime.

The current priorities are:

  1. Bat persecution
  2. Freshwater Pearl Mussel (FWPM)
  3. Raptor persecution - Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Hen Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Red Kite and White Tailed Eagle
  4. Badger Persecution
  5. Poaching - hare coursing, deer poaching and fish poaching
  6. The illegal trade in CITES species

The NPCC have developed a strategy on wildlife crime.

The CPS has published a number of pieces of legal guidance which may be helpful to prosecutors dealing with wildlife crime:

The CPS is a signatory of the Wildlife Crime Memorandum of Understanding which is currently being updated.

Rural Crime

There is no set definition of rural crime however it can be very broadly classified as any crime and anti-social behaviour occurring in rural areas.

Rural crime is often linked to Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) who target and exploit rural communities across a range of crime types for example organised plant theft, livestock theft, burglaries targeting firearms, poaching and hare coursing.

The police led Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs) have demonstrated that offenders involved in organised acquisitive crime such as ATM rip out offences also target remote communities, laundering their proceeds through other activities, for example gambling at illegal hare coursing events. Similarly, legally held firearms can be found secured in rural properties and OCGs have been known to target these addresses in order to filter these firearms through criminal networks to be used in offences such as armed robberies, drug distribution, and kidnap and extortion.

The NPCC has developed a Rural Affairs Strategy which sets out police priorities in this area:

  • Farm machinery, plant and vehicle theft - including quad bikes, modern and vintage tractors, tools and equipment from outbuildings
  • Livestock offences - including theft, worrying and attacks
  • Fuel theft - including heating oil, diesel and petrol
  • Equine crime - including horse trailer and horse box theft, horse theft, tack theft, fly grazing and neglect
  • Fly tipping - including household and commercial waste, waste through organised criminality
  • Poaching which crosses over with the wildlife priorities - including hare coursing, deer poaching, fish poaching.

Rural crime can take many forms and therefore there is no single piece of CPS legal guidance on rural crime. There are a number of pieces of legal guidance which prosecutors may find useful including:

Heritage Crime

The CPS is a signatory to the Heritage and Cultural Property Crime Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which is currently being updated. The MoU defines Heritage crime as: ‘Any offence which harms the value of England’s and Wales’ heritage assets and their settings to this and future generations and includes all offences involving cultural property.’

Heritage assets include:

  • Listed buildings;
  • Scheduled monuments;
  • Protected marine wreck sites;
  • Registered Battlefields;
  • Registered Parks and Gardens;
  • Conservation areas;
  • Protected military remains of aircraft and vessels of historic interest
  • World Heritage Sites; and
  • Undesignated but acknowledged heritage buildings and sites.

Cultural property is defined in the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict as ‘movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people’ and includes objects such as paintings, jewellery, literature, sculpture, ceramics and pottery very often found within museums, archives, libraries, and private or stately homes are also identified as heritage assets. Many heritage commodities also have an intrinsic value in that they are fashioned from precious stones, metals or other valuable materials.

The current Heritage and Cultural Property Crime priorities highlighted in the National Threat Assessment are:

  • Architectural theft - in particular metal and stone
  • Criminal damage - in particular damage caused by fire (‘arson’)
  • Unlawful metal detecting (‘nighthawking’)
  • Unlawful disturbance and salvage of maritime sites
  • Anti-social behaviour - in particular fly-tipping and off-road driving
  • Unauthorised works to heritage assets
  • Illicit trade in cultural objects

The Historic England website contains lots of useful information on Heritage Crime which prosecutors may find useful.

There are a number of pieces of CPS legal guidance which prosecutors may find useful including:

Relevant legislation for prosecuting heritage crime may include:

  • Criminal Damage Act 1971
  • Theft Act 1978
  • Treasure Act 1996
  • Dealing in Cultural Objects Act 2003
  • Protection of Wrecks Act 1973
  • Protection of Military Remains act 1986
  • Town and Country Planning Act 1990
  • Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979

The sentencing guidelines for theft and Handling Stolen Goods include damage to heritage assets: Theft Act Offences guidelines. The Sentencing Council has also published guidelines for Arson and Criminal Damage which provides formal guidance to courts on the impact of such offending on national heritage assets including listed buildings, historic objects and unique parts of national heritage and history. More information on the guidelines can be found on the Sentencing Council website.

Wildlife, Rural and Heritage crime can have a significant impact on victims and wider communities. For example, criminal damage of heritage assets or historical monuments can deprive not only communities of their heritage but also future generations. The wider impacts of hare coursing can include vandalism of property, loss of income, theft, intimidation and road traffic issues including the driving of unlicensed vehicles. Wildlife offences can also have significant detrimental impacts on particular species.

Victim personal statements, community impact statements and species impact statements can be invaluable in showing the wide ranging impact of this type of offending and gives victims and communities a voice in the criminal justice process.

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