A reflection on this year's conference, held in North Yorkshire

Building on the work of Chief Superintendent Terry Rands of Essex Police in setting up the Wildlife Crime Officers’ (WCO) network, back in 1989 the RSPB organised the first Wildlife Crime Enforcers’ Conference with support from RSNC, Wildlife Trusts, WWF and the NCC (Nature Conservancy Council – now Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural Resources Wales). 64 delegates attended the conference in Warwickshire to swap notes and ideas on tackling wildlife crime, with most police forces in the UK represented. The RSPB took over the running of the conference in 1991, handing over to PAW (Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime) in 1997. Since then the conference has grown, with 140 attending the 30th Wildlife Crime Enforcers’ Conference at The Hawkhills, near York, between 30 November-2 December 2018.

Some of the issues on the bill weren’t dissimilar to those featured in the first conference. Police resources remain an issue, as does catching the criminals. On the plus side, the will to work together remains and the passion to tackle wildlife crime is perhaps stronger than ever. There’s no doubt we have some skilled and determined individuals fighting nature’s corner.

But in other ways the world has transformed over the last 30 years. In this year’s milestone conference – represented on twitter by the handle @wildlifeconf – the importance of social media was addressed, as were advances in forensics (summed up excellently by Dr Lucy Webster of the PAW Forensic Working Group) and the role of online trading and auction sites.

Workshops were held on the Saturday afternoon, after the announcement of this year’s WWF Awards. PC Dewi Evans of North Wales Police (pictured below) was the worthy winner of their Wildlife Crime Enforcer of the Year award (PC Emerson of Buckingham Derbyshire Constabulary was runner up). 

Sergeant Kevin Kelly of North Yorkshire Police (pictured below) accepted the Wildlife Crime Operation of the year award for Operation Owl, a partnership project by the North Yorkshire Police, the two Yorkshire National Parks, RSPB and RSPCA to raise awareness of raptor persecution in the county. An inspiring and heartfelt talk on this was delivered by Sergeant Stuart Grainger.

On Sunday we heard more about the six current priority areas: badgers, bats, raptors, freshwater pearl mussels, CITES and poaching.

The RSPB’s Guy Shorrock – a conference veteran who’s missed just three in the last 30 years! – provided a reflection on raptor persecution, which is a conservation priority for the charity. While prosecuting these crimes continues to present huge difficulties, the recent success on Whernside moor leading to the conviction of gamekeeper Tim Cowin provided some hope and was a credit to the efforts of the police, RSPB and CPS (Crown Prosecution Service).

Jonathan Richards (CPS) demonstrated how 21st century digital forensics on a seized computer and old-fashioned police work and expertise combined to catch egg collector Jason North, who was sentenced in May 2018. Sam Trackman shared the huge success of the global Operation Thunderstorm in tackling the smuggling of CITES specimens; Ian Guildford NWCU presented Operation Lake which shone light on the slippery subject of global eel smuggling; and Jordan Houlston’s presentation on Operation Manhattan included video footage of badger baiting in Wales that shocked the room, reminding everyone what we’re up against.

Chief Inspector Louise Hubble (pictured below), Head of the NWCU, ended with an update on the Priority Delivery Groups, and the headway being made by new Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group Chair Superintendent Nick Lyall. She pointed out that, as a delivery group, the group must deliver, and that an action plan has now been drafted.


Deputy Chief Inspector Craig Naylor, NPCC lead for Rural Affairs and Wildlife Crime, chaired the conference. He said: “I don’t think any of us will deny that, in the current climate, developing our approach in the six priority areas presents a real challenge.

“Partnership collaboration, working with Non-Government Organisations and Governmental departments, are key to tackling wildlife and rural crime. Working together, we can contribute significantly to tackling wildlife crime. Operation Owl is an excellent example of this, where police, partners and the public work together to raise awareness of wildlife crime and I am keen to see this replicated in other areas of the UK and other aspects of wildlife and rural crime.”