The Government has announced new funding ensuring the future of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), which had been under threat from closure due to spending constraints.
In a Parliamentary statement on Tuesday, Defra Minister Rory Stewart said Defra and Home Office Ministers had agreed their respective departments would each provide the Unit with funding of £136,000 a year for the next four financial years.
Funding jointly provided by the two Departments up to March 2020, including additional support of £29,000 a year from Defra to tackle online wildlife crime, will total £1.2 million.
Following the 2015 Spending Review 2015, Defra and Home Office Ministers had been considering the level of government funding for the unit beyond March 2016, putting its future in doubt.
The unit’s future was secured after a campaign from wildlife organisations and politicians who expressed deep concern over its potential disappearance.
Mr Stewart said the funding recognised the important contribution the unit makes to tackling wildlife crime at home and abroad.
Mr Stewart said: “This will give the Unit significant financial stability and enable their vital work to continue until at least 2020.
“Those contributions will be in addition to the funding central Government provides to police forces in England and Wales to tackle all types of crime (including wildlife crime).”
Karen Bradley, the Home Office Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Crime said: “The Government takes wildlife crime very seriously and is highly supportive of the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s work to tackle it, both here in the UK and internationally.”
The NWCU also receives money to support its operating costs from the National Police Chiefs Council, the Scottish government and the Northern Ireland administration.
The NWCU provides intelligence and direct assistance to individual police forces and other UK law enforcement agencies investigating wildlife crime.
It also acts as the UK policing focal point for EUROPOL and INTERPOL activity on all wildlife crime related matters, and works in partnership with non-governmental agencies across the UK committed to tackling wildlife crime.
Its UK priorities include:
Badger persecution - ranging from the badger baiting to sett disturbance/destruction which can occur when people carry out otherwise legal operations on land such as forestry or agricultural tasks.
Poaching – covering deer, fish and hare coursing. The includes offering advice to farmers, landowners, gamekeepers, shooting and land management organisations regarding measures to put in place to prevent poaching and disruption mechanisms.
Raptor persecution - including poisoning, egg theft, chick theft, taking from the wild and nest disturbance/destruction and to concentrate on golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, peregrine, red kite and white-tailed eagle.
Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, said: “The government have finally relented and seen sense. The work that the NWCU does combating these crimes is vital. But it should not have had to come to this.”
Labour shadow environment minister, Alex Cunningham, said: “Like the [overall] police budget, funding for the NWCU has not been protected in real terms.
"With 18,000 police officers lost already under David Cameron, the growing complexity of international and domestic wildlife crime will put ever greater pressure on the resources and expertise of the NWCU.”
Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK said. “The essential work of this unit deserves long-term, cross-party funding commitment, so that it does not labour under the threat of closure every few years.”
Badger Trust CEO Dominic Dyer said refusing to fund the unit would have been a ‘national disgrace’ when the Government was ‘wasting’ millions on a badger cull.
Glynn Evans, the British Association of Shooting and Conservation’s head of game and deer management, said: “We work very closely with the NWCU and this is great news.
“The unit does important work protecting our wildlife and we can now continue to build on our relationship with its staff for many years to come.”