Wildlife Crime — [Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 2:30 pm, 20th March 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered wildlife crime.

May I say what a great pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell? I also thank all those outside the Chamber who have engaged with this debate on social media through the excellent House of Commons digital engagement team. With nearly 4,000 comments, it is clear that there is a real strength of feeling on the issue.

The term “wildlife crime” covers a variety of different offences, but the common thread is simple: cruelty to and the mistreatment of animals and birds. For example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has told me about the plight of hen harriers, which are being hunted to extinction. In 2018 the RSPB satellite-tagged more than 30 hen harriers in the UK, but in just six months half of them had died. Eleven of them disappeared in suspicious circumstances near shooting moors. It is unclear whether those birds were deliberately targeted by the owners of shooting moors in order to protect the grouse, pheasant or partridge for the shooting season, or whether they were collateral damage during a shoot, but a suspicious sign is that the tags disappear and the scene of the crime is cleaned up. Whoever is shooting the birds knows they have done wrong.

The RSPB identifies weaknesses in the law. Of 68 confirmed kills of birds of prey in 2017, just four prosecutions were brought, with only one conviction. The RSPB is calling for stronger sentences and points to the dramatic decrease in egg collecting offences after sentences were toughened. Such offences went from an average of 167 a year in the period 2010-15, to just 10 in 2017.

The National Farmers Union has expressed concerns to me about hare coursing, which it tells me is having a severe impact on farm businesses and rural communities, not to mention the hares themselves.