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Tuesday, 2 October 2023

Wildlife crime

Wildlife crime can push rare animals and plants closer to extinction. It can cause suffering to animals and be linked to other serious crimes like drug trafficking. You can help by reporting suspected wildlife crime to the police and being careful when buying souvenirs made from animals or plants.

What is wildlife crime?

There are many types of wildlife crime, but most involve:

  • people being cruel to wild animals
  • people buying, selling, harming or disturbing wild animals or plants that are protected by law

Cruelty to animals

Cruelty to wild animals is often a crime. Cruelty can include illegal snaring and violence towards animals, like badger baiting. Animals kept by people are also legally protected against cruelty.

Some, more common, wild animals in the UK can be legally killed or taken from the wild, but this will depend on the methods used. For example, shooting and the use of cage traps is often legal, while other approaches are illegal, like poisoning or using explosives.

Crimes against protected animals and plants

Many types of animals and plants are protected by law because they are rare, are becoming rarer or are in danger of extinction. Crimes against protected animals and plants can include:

  • buying or selling them, including in shops and on the internet
  • damaging or disturbing the places where they live, like nests, ponds, bat roosts or nature reserves
  • killing animals or taking them from the wild, including poaching or illegal poisoning
  • taking eggs, or parts of animals like skins or feathers, for personal collections
  • taking protected plants from the countryside

In some special cases, killing or taking protected animals and plants is allowed, for example when someone has received a licence. People who are investigating reports of suspected wildlife crime will check whether a licence has been given.

Why stopping wildlife crime matters

It’s important to stop wildlife crime because it can:

  • reduce numbers of rare animals and plants and push them closer to extinction
  • cause animals pain and suffering
  • be linked to other serious crime, like drugs, money laundering and firearms offences

Punishment for wildlife crime

Wildlife crime is taken seriously by the police and courts, with fines and even prison sentences for convicted offenders. Some recent examples of punishments received by people responsible for wildlife crimes include:

  • a 30-month prison sentence for smuggling peregrine eggs
  • a 12-month prison sentence for smuggling ivory
  • a £5,000 fine for destroying a bat roost
  • a £2,500 fine for interfering with a badger set
  • a £2,800 fine for illegally selling protected fish

Help stop wildlife crime

Members of the public can play an important part in stopping wildlife crime. The information below tells you how to report wildlife crime and what to be aware of when buying animals, plants or items made from them.

If you witness a suspected wildlife crime

If you witness something you think is a wildlife crime while it is taking place, then you should contact the police straight away on 999. Do not leave it until it is too late. For your own safety, do not approach suspects yourself.

If possible, provide the police with:

  • the exact location where suspected offenders were seen, with a map reference if possible
  • a brief description including details like clothing, any tools being carried or any dogs
  • the make, colour and registration number of any vehicle involved

Report information about suspected wildlife crime

If you have any information about wildlife crimes, or about people who have carried out wildlife crimes, report it to your local police. Many police forces have special wildlife crime officers. Check the website of your local police force, where details about the wildlife crime officer may be shown. You can also ring your local police station using their usual non-emergency number and ask to speak to the wildlife crime officer.

If you do not wish to give your name you can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. They will pass on details about wildlife crime to the correct police force.

Report smuggling of protected animals and plants

If you have any information about protected animals or plants being smuggled, call the customs hotline on 0800 59 5000. You can also follow the link below to report information online.

Report suspected pesticide poisoning

If you find an animal that you think may have been poisoned, or other evidence of poisoning, report this to the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme. They can be contacted on: 0800 321 600.

Be aware when buying animal and plant items

Some protected animals or plants are sold illegally in this country, overseas or on the internet. This can include:

  • live animals sold as pets
  • dead animals or parts of them, like stuffed animals, reptile skins, birds' eggs and feathers
  • items made from animals and plants like coral, ivory, caviar or some medicines

Follow the links below for more information about items to avoid.

International trade is banned for the rarest animals and plants. Protected plants and animals that are less rare can sometimes be brought into the EU if a permit has been given. The law can be complicated, but if you are in doubt, check with the Animal Health Agency at:

Tel: 0117 372 8774
Fax: 0117 372 8206

If you are unable to check or are in doubt about items when travelling abroad, then it may be best to avoid buying them.

Additional links

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