Birders Against Wildlife Crime
Last night Channel 4 News broadcast a short and extremely welcome report on the persecution of raptors on Scottish grouse moors, triggered by the rather unfortunate timing that saw Prince William (right) debate poaching and wildlife crime at a conference in London the day after shooting animals ‘legally’ in Spain.
William of course famously enjoys a day out shooting Red Grouse on the very moors that have unnaturally high levels of ‘prey’ and unnaturally low levels of predators like Golden Eagles and Hen Harriers. It’s common knowledge that gamekeepers are involved in this imbalance (a fact smugly batted away (yet again) by Alex Hogg, chair of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association in the same report, despite a list of prosecutions that prove otherwise).
As contemptible as predator persecution on grouse moors is, it’s not just raptors that are being targeted across the UK, of course, and it’s not just ‘a few rogue’ gamekeepers breaking the law.
All across the UK our wildlife is being shot, poisoned, trapped, and traded.
The difficulty, though, is PROVING it.
Changing the odds
One thing that was missing from the report on Channel 4 News was thoughts on how the balance might be tipped back in favour of our wildlife.
That’s not a criticism. It was a short piece sandwiched between images of flooded high streets and farmland, but it’s widely acknowledged that wildlife criminals (professional and amateur) think that they can operate with little chance of being caught – let alone being prosecuted. Courts rightly need substantive proof that a crime has even occurred. Too few police officers are allocated to fight wildlife crime, and charity investigation officers cover huge areas using limited resources.
We need to change the odds.
And in fact several of us – life-long birders and active wildlife campaigners – have been thinking about one way we can do just that…
Birders Against Wildlife Crime
The idea is very simple.
- Every day thousands of birders (and that includes the five of us) go into the field looking for birds.
- We’re skilled and alert observers.
- We actively seek out areas that the general public often don’t visit.
- We use powerful optics, and almost all of us carry either a DSLR camera or a smartphone with a camera built in.
- What if we birders became ‘eyes in the field’ for wildlife crime and investigation officers, watching not only for birds but for criminal activity as well?
So that every time someone was about to commit a wildlife crime they had to look over their shoulder to make sure that they weren’t being watched, photographed, or filmed.
Wouldn’t that help tip the balance back in favour of our wildlife?
The Three Rs
BAWC is a simple idea – and, some will say, not actually a new one. Wildlife charities [edited to add: and police and the National Wildlife Crime Unit] have been asking the public to keep an eye out for wildlife crime for a long time.
We’re approaching things slightly differently though.
First off we’re birders talking to birders. And we understand that part of the problem in tackling wildlife crime is that the laws surrounding wildlife crime are very complex: many of us don’t know what exactly is or isn’t a wildlife crime, what we should do and what details we need to record when we see a crime, and who we’re supposed to report that crime to.
So we’re putting together a website and campaign materials that will focus on what we’ve dubbed ‘The Three Rs’:
We’re building the information that we want quick access to ourselves, information that tells us all how to
- Recognise what a wildlife crime is
- how to properly Record that crime so the chances of a prosecution are increased
- and to whom we should Report that crime.
Birders Against Wildlife Crime – change is coming
We’ve been talking with investigation officers, the police, and charities. We’ve already contacted influential websites. We’re reaching out to birding groups.
We’ve also decided on three main campaigns for 2014. We’re planning events and wildlife crime training courses. We’re discussing how BAWC might bring about changes in the law that would help our wildlife.
It’s been a very exciting and positive experience! Everyone we’ve spoken to has welcomed our approach (though it’s true we’ve not yet contacted Mr Hogg to explain what we’re doing…)
We’re not quite ready to go ‘live’ (another few weeks will hopefully see us there) but events like the Channel 4 News report and the fantastic response from colleagues that we’ve run the idea past, mean that we’d like to get the idea out into the public domain now.
Birders Against Wildlife Crime. Together we can tip the balance away from criminals and back towards our wildlife.
*BAWC is an independent, volunteer-led campaign group set up by Charlie Moores, Lawrie Phipps, Alan Tilmouth, and Tristan Reid. We are non-political and not affiliated with any existing charity or organisation.
We’d like to thank Anthony Roberts of Zed Design for donating his time and talent to produce our striking logo.