‘Lockdown effect’ contributes to unseen crimes but badger charity’s public awareness campaigns boost reporting
A very bad year for badgers was confirmed today on the release of Wildlife Crime in 2020 revealing the latest wildlife crime statistics. Reported badger crime surged by over a third in 2020 to 36%, with sett interference and illegal shooting showing a significant escalation, the former driven by a massive increase in development driven crime. The ‘lockdown effect’ contributed to an ideal environment for badger crime to take place unseen as the public stayed home in the early part of the pandemic.
Yet the lockdown had a flipside with increased public awareness and reporting. As more people took to the countryside for their daily exercise, Badger Trust mounted a strong crime awareness campaign to save badgers from persecution, followed by the release of its hard-hitting short film ‘Stopping Badger Crime’. By urging vigilance, explaining how to recognise crimes against badgers and how to report them, and by working with the local badger groups on the ground, the charity believes support from the public also contributed to the upswing in crime reports.
The number of recorded incidents of illegal persecution against the badger makes it one of the most demonised species in England and Wales. Badgers are persecuted possibly by a wider cross-section of society than any other species. They are abused and tormented by a profusion of crimes, including sett interference, badger baiting, shooting, snaring and trapping, poisoning, hunting and lamping.
Offenders include those involved in agriculture, forestry, development, construction and even ordinary householders angered by badger activities in private gardens. A boom in construction and the pressure to develop rural locations make the steep rise in development crime a particularly acute threat to badgers.
Dawn Varley, Acting Executive Director of Badger Trust, commented: ‘Crimes against badgers have been a UK Wildlife Crime Priority for more than a decade due to the scale of persecution they face. Sadly, the persecution of this protected species shows no sign of letting up, and this 36% increase is horrific – especially when you consider what likely goes unreported. The latest statistics reveal rising reports of badger crime, driven by a shocking 220% increase in reports of developers interfering with badger setts, despite specific legislation to protect badgers, their setts and their habitats.
‘Some people seem to see badger habitat protections as an inconvenience to be quietly bulldozed over, rather than a legal requirement to conserve an iconic native British mammal.’
She continued: ‘These crime figures highlight the scale of the problem we are dealing with and the importance of working together to combat badger crime. 2022 must see renewed work by police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring offenders to justice. This work needs to be supported by better monitoring, new training for officers and prosecutors to help them demonstrate criminal intent, and consistently tougher sentencing to deter offenders.
Badger Trust provides free specialist badger crime training to police forces in England and Wales, and to its affiliated network of badger groups. We are working with the CPS (via Link) to provide training to support prosecutions and improve success rates.’
The badger chapter concludes with the following matters to be addressed:
Offences and incidents against badgers need to be recorded consistently to provide consistent statistics for appropriate analysis, identify trends and resource allocation.
Police forces need to identify resources and increase their capability to effectively investigate allegations of offences against badgers. Likewise, they should be provided with the resources needed to gather intelligence relating to wildlife crime from the internet.
The CPS needs to identify specialist prosecutors in all areas and look at the training provided, in addition to ensuring that badger crime cases are prosecuted through the court system by recognised experienced appointed lawyers.
The availability of competent or expert witnesses, whether ecologists from statutory agencies or alternative people with suitable knowledge, skill and experience, needs to be improved.
‘Wildlife Crime in 2020’ is produced by Wildlife and Countryside Link and Wales Environment Link members. The report compiles statistics, insight and commentary from key wildlife organisations, and covers a range of flora and fauna, including RSPB, Bat Conservation Trust, League Against Cruel Sports, Plantlife and Badger Trust (with the support of