I congratulate Christian Matheson on raising this issue today. I agree with many things that he said; as he will know, there are some things with which I am not in total agreement.
It is no secret that I am an avid country sports enthusiast, and I am also very keen on conservation and animal protection, which is important to me. There is no reason why those two pursuits cannot be married together; I believe they can. As proof, we very clearly retained the habitat for such purposes on the land that I own and have access to. In recent times—having planted 3,500 trees, dug out two ponds and retained the hedgerows—we have seen an increase in insect life, birdlife and bee life, and in the number of songbirds and birds of prey, to which John Howell referred. All of those are protected.
There are many people who enthuse about conservation. I say gently that others who have the opportunity should practise it in a very real way, which I like to think I do. The hon. Member for Henley, who spoke before me, would probably say the same things that I am saying. I believe that one cannot be involved in country sports without knowing the importance of conserving the wonderful countryside, which is why I was delighted that the PSNI in Northern Ireland appointed an officer who is designated solely to wildlife crime. It just so happens that that wee girl was a flower girl at my wedding 32 years ago, so I have an interest in her progression through the PSNI.
We have the issues of badger baiting and dogfighting, which I absolutely condemn, and David Hanson referred to attacks on livestock and sheep—they are all very important issues. The wildlife liaison officer is the central point of contact in the PSNI for police officers and staff who require advice, support and assistance in relation to all animal welfare or wildlife crime, with particular links to suspected breaches of the legislation or associated queries. The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 was amended by the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, and the police liaison officer offers advice, support and assistance to the police service across the whole of Northern Ireland. She does a really incredible job—she is one of my constituents and also a good friend of mine.
In the very short time I have, I want to discuss what the hon. Member for Henley referred to: it is important to look at wildlife crime elsewhere in the world. I have done the bit back home, where it is very important that we can actively discourage and legislate against those who blatantly break the law. It is said that across the world
“illegal wildlife trade is now the fourth most lucrative transnational crime after drugs, arms and human trafficking”.
It is worth some £17 billion a year. The money generated from the global trade in wildlife has been linked to funding terrorist activities: the people who are involved operate as cartels, with multiple organised crime groups working to a common purpose. The exploitation of wildlife is a low-risk yet high-reward form of crime. The 2016 “World Wildlife Crime Report” by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime shows the extensive involvement of transnational organised crime groups. The Minister does not have responsibility for that, but I would like some direction from Government on what they are doing about it.
It is clear that there is a real need for focused, targeted and strategised UK-wide policing of wildlife crime, and for officers to understand the importance of this. I know that the police in the UK and the PSNI in Northern Ireland do a wonderful job, but it must be coordinated. I believe that we could do this better if we took a UK-wide approach, and that the Department must take the lead in putting this strategy into place. We always get a good response from the Minister, and I look forward to it today.