Campaigners have warned that birds of prey are being put at risk by the disbanding of the Dorset Wildlife Crime Team, one of the country’s leading wildlife crime teams and have suggested that this could be the beginning of a nationwide pattern, rolling back wildlife crime enforcement.
Wildlife crime officers work to stop a range of offences including raptor persecution, where birds of prey are poisoned or shot by gamekeepers and landowners. Following the disbanding of the team, wildlife groups fear that influential landowners with interests in removing police focus from wildlife crime could take inspiration from the situation in Dorset, and this pattern could be repeated throughout the country.
Why was it disbanded?
Early this year, a rare white-tailed sea eagle was found poisoned in Dorset, which led to the opening of an investigation by the local wildlife policing team, led by PC Claire Dinsdale, however the case was abruptly closed a few weeks later with little explanation.
Around this time, the local wildlife crime team was rebranded from ‘Dorset Police Rural Wildlife and Heritage Crime’ to ‘Dorset Police Rural Crime Team’. According to Dorset police, this decision was made to “reflect the broader work we are undertaking to ensure we provide exceptional local policing to our rural communities.” Following this decision, the wildlife crime section of the local policing website has also been removed.
After the investigation was closed, Dinsdale went on leave, before, on her return, being told that she would no longer be a wildlife crime lead.
What does this mean?
Commenting on this decision, Dr Ruth Tinga, co-founder of Wild Justice said:
“If police wildlife crime teams are disbanding or rebranding to exclude wildlife crime, this flies in the face of government and police commitments to tackle wildlife crime, and particularly raptor persecution which is supposed to be a national wildlife crime priority but is on the rise according to the latest annual reports. There is absolutely no justification whatsoever for ignoring these crimes when there is a statutory duty for raptors to be protected.”
While Dorset police have claimed that the rebranded unit will continue to dedicate attention to wildlife crimes, campaigners remain concerned over whether this will translate into practice, and whether wildlife offences will be taken seriously.