Both from our observations of the way that wildlife crime is managed and from the many discussions we had, we formed the view that the following elements are required to reduce wildlife crime:
- a national co-ordinating group that has a clear plan to reduce wildlife crime. This will require the appropriate representation from all relevant interest groups and the resources to achieve its objectives;
- local versions of the national group. These will be necessary to allow the national plan to fit with local needs and existing structures;
- local groups initially chaired by senior police officers but with the view to seeking independent chairs as soon as practicable;
- these same senior officers to oversee wildlife crime policing within their force areas. Activities would include chairing regular meetings of WECOs, where issues relating to prevention, intelligence, investigation and barriers to improving results are discussed, understood and overcome;
- full-time wildlife crime co-ordinators. Along with the other elements in this list, these officers are a crucial part of an effective structure. We observed how they improved their force's overall responsiveness to wildlife crime through their work to encourage colleagues and their support of partnership structures. Where these officers are police officers as opposed to members of police staff, they should also participate in investigations. Colleagues and partners thought this a particular advantage;
- a national minimum standard of investigation for wildlife crime. This would raise both the level and consistency of investigations. It would improve investigators' and supervisors' ability to recognise when to raise the level of management focus and how to engage with specialist agencies to support the police investigation;
- full implementation by COPFS of the stated role of the specialist wildlife prosecutor both in the prosecution of wildlife cases and also within local wildlife partnerships.
In so far as these conclusions relate to police activity the force that came closest to meeting the above criteria was Grampian Police. Here we saw clear evidence of ownership and drive, from the most senior levels through to the actions of individual WECOs, including a highly effective full-time co-ordinator. In order to resolve some of the more complex wildlife crime problems a well-led and well-constituted partnership group had also been established.
We shared their view that the greater number of wildlife crime incidents being recorded by the force reflected its closing of the gap between true and reported levels. It draws further into question the comparatively low levels recorded by some other forces.
The benefits to Grampian Police of having implemented the above structure were clear as was the enthusiasm of those involved. Significantly, through our interviews with partners, we learned that this relatively recent change of approach (only two years before) had increased their confidence in the force's ability to respond to matters including and beyond wildlife crime.
The force with perhaps the longest track record of combating wildlife crime was Tayside. Here also many of the elements listed above were present. What gaps there were, were to an extent compensated by two factors:
- the consistency of focus over many years and the benefits in expertise and relationships that this had brought about; and
- the enthusiasm of their co-ordinator and his work with similarly dedicated colleagues within their partnership group.
Finally and perhaps most importantly we return to the national partnership group mentioned at various points above. Such a structure could be developed from the existing Scottish sub-group of the UK Partnership against Wildlife Crime known as PAW (Scotland). This group is well positioned to take on the leadership role.
The fact that it has recently been chaired at ministerial level considerably increases its potential and is we believe, fundamental to its future success.
The proposed group would need to encourage all agencies to work effectively together and to act as arbiter where this was required. It must also be able to encourage the innovation necessary to bring about more effective ways of working and to provide monetary support where appropriate.
We believe that this report sets out at least some of the actions necessary to allow agencies to better match what is clearly the public's interest in and aspiration towards a strong national and natural heritage.