When we think of corruption it’s often in terms of somewhere abroad. Somewhere in Africa, maybe, or perhaps southern Europe. It’s not usually about something on our own doorstep, but, as George Monbiot writes, that’s because we’re not looking hard enough. ‘Would there still be a commercial banking sector in Britain if it weren’t for corruption? Think of the list of scandals: pension mis-selling, endowment mortgage fraud, the payment protection insurance scam, Libor rigging, insider trading and all the rest.’ (1) Corruption occurs everywhere.
And so it is with wildlife crime. We might think it’s ‘over there’ somewhere, and indeed it often is, with ivory poaching and rhino killing in Africa, industrial scale songbird slaughter all around the Med and commercial whaling in all but name from Japan, Iceland and Norway. And it’s not difficult to find lots of other instances around the world. But, just as with corruption, there’s plenty of wildlife crime on British soil. Take the Ministry of Defence’s bases on Cyprus for a start. Although the trapping of songbirds was made illegal 40 years ago, last year saw 900 000 birds trapped and killed there – on British soil. I’ll just say that again – just short of a million birds were trapped and killed on British soil in 2014 alone. And what’s more, the situation is getting worse, with 2014 being the worst year on record.
So, why is this happening? Graham Madge of the RSPB said, back in 2012, “This isn’t just a few guys trapping on a Sunday morning with a few nets, this is almost getting into the realms of organised crime. There are massive operations at some locations, to the point where shrubbery is planted across hillsides to attract the birds, irrigation systems are put in to water the bushes to make them attractive to insects and therefore to birds, sound systems are put in. They play the bird song at night as the birds are migrating over the island in an attempt to try and pull them in to trap them.” (2) And all this is just so the local dish of ‘ambelopoulia’ – grilled Blackcaps, Robins and warblers eaten whole – can be brazenly and illegally served in local restaurants. And the Ministry of Defence? Again, back in 2012, it said it took the matter ‘very seriously’. And yet the annual number of birds killed is estimated to have doubled in the two years since.
Although this area is British soil, and thus is our responsibility, it isn’t Britain as such. But wildlife crime is rife here too. We don’t have to go abroad to get a bellyful. We just have to go out into the countryside. Chasing terrified foxes and hares with dogs has hardly gone away despite legislation. Badgers are still ripped apart for fun with incidents on the increase partly, perhaps, as a result of a degree of legitimisation by the government through its non-evidence based scapegoating of the badger and cap-doffing to the National Farmers’ Union. In addition, all manner of animals and birds are exterminated across our uplands in the name of grouse moor ‘management’ on behalf of wealthy landowners. It’s against the law and it all deprives us of having more wildlife encounters, more biodiversity and a richer natural world.
As Monbiot concludes, for many countries the kind of corruption that exists involves paying bribes to officials. But what happens in Britain is much more sophisticated and is carried out by the rich and powerful. Corruption is dressed up as legitimate business.
In the same way that the elite influences what qualifies as being corrupt, and therefore excuses their own practices from inclusion for their own benefit, the same happens with wildlife crime. When it would benefit those with power to alter what is a crime against birds and animals they want to change things. Repealing hunting laws? Killing, sorry ‘culling’, protected badgers? Making it legal with special licenses to kill certain birds of prey? Coming up with a plan to legally remove Hen Harriers? The list goes on… and most of these are being discussed to benefit the elite and their activities. The bottom line? Anything rather than changing their own ways.
The question is how much do we – you and I – care? Unless people like us take that extra step then things will just go on, illegally, as before, benefiting the few at the expense of the many and perpetuating animal cruelty. And that would be criminal.
So, there are plenty of things we can do:
- Report any wildlife crime by ringing 101 or, if the crime is actually taking place, 999. To do so anonymously ring 0800 555111
- Join an organisation, such as the RSPB, League Against Cruel Sports or the Badger Trust
- Write to your MP about strengthening laws to protect our wildlife and to put an end to the disgrace in Cyprus
- Write to your Police and Crime Commissioner about what their force is doing about wildlife crime
- Support those trying to fight wildlife crime here and abroad, e.g. Fundrazr appeal
- Get your friends and family involved, e.g. raising awareness and family fundraising
- Follow and support like-minded individuals and groups on social media such as Birders Against Wildlife Crime, Wildlife Crime Aware and Mark Avery
It’s time to stop wishing and start doing.