"Simon Says" - The cost of wildlife crime in Dorset
Tuesday 6th March 2018
Dorset isn’t exactly the Caracas of the UK when it comes to crime rates, but we certainly do have several issues relating to wildlife crime that our staff, the police and various authorities have to deal with. Some of you may not think of these as crimes, but some have received a lot of public attention.
Bats and planning
Last month Dorset Police announced that a developer in Bournemouth had been sentenced to pay £2,500 under the Proceeds of Crime Act, with other fines and costs, all for demolishing a roost of a protected species of bat. This is only the second case ever where the Proceeds of Crime Act featured bats.
The sizeable costs indicated that the judge took this case serious as she or he should. There really isn’t any excuse for this these days. Developments are so rarely stopped because of the presence of a protected species. It just means that a developer needs to make a bit more effort - as they should. I was talking to the boss of a well-known estate agent in Poole recently and he was expressing the usual concern about, “newts getting in the way of progress”. I was able to explain that in most of Dorset there is now a protocol that protects wildlife and helps developers. Yes both are possible at the same time. The Dorset system is based around getting a good outcome for nature rather than just a set of hard and fast rules. As long as a developer identifies wildlife issues at an early stage and takes steps to ensure that the species are in some way better off after the development than before, then that is a net gain for wildlife and should in most cases still allow the development to continue.
True, it may cost a little more than if there were no protected species and habitats present, but that is the price to pay for benefiting from our common resource – nature. It is the responsibility of everyone, in Dorset or otherwise, to ensure they don’t degrade the county. That developer paid the price and would probably have paid a lot less had they followed the law.
In addition to the principle of not degrading the environment, another principle that is protected in law is in effect one where we all need to do our bit. This is shown most obviously in TPOs (Tree Protection Orders). In my area of the county, most trees above a certain size are protected by TPOs. Borough of Poole do a great job of enforcing this with reasonable fines for offenders, but they are sensible about it. If you have a tree that is inappropriately large near housing you can still apply for a licence to remove it, usually on condition that you plant a replacement somewhere on your property. However, if a tree has landscape value then it needs protecting. If we all wanted to remove trees from our property (classic “not in my backyard” philosophy) then what a sad, hard, degraded environment we would live in. We all need to do our bit and plant or keep trees wherever possible for the sake of the whole community.
Two developers near me were sentenced for ring-barking, the removal of a ring of bark so that the tree would die apparently of natural causes. This was just greedy because they had bought the land for £4.5m and intended to sell the developed plot for £11.2m.
Another principle protected by law is ‘polluter pays’. Our Dorset rivers such as the Frome, Piddle and Stour are fabulously rich in wildlife as they are a rare type of river called chalk streams. They are sensitive and need all the protection we can give them, not just for wildlife but because we drink the water in the catchment. The authority protecting our rivers, the Environment Agency (EA) has the power to apply civil penalties. In some cases where a company, that has polluted a water course or doesn’t have the right permits, can agree to fund remediation through restoration of the environment. DWT has received several such pots of funding which we have used to do some great work restoring or improving rivers to make them better for wildlife. We’d rather these companies didn’t pollute in the first place, but at least we can make something good come out of the offence.
In the days of the old fishing authority illegal fishing was rife in Dorset with one of the centres for this important, insidious type of wildlife crime being Poole Harbour. Since the Southern IFCA (Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority) took over, such crimes have decreased markedly. The IFCA has worked with a carrot and stick to deal with the bad guys, by encouraging them to fish legally and by greater enforcement through clever intelligence to catch them if they don’t.
Even the courts seem to be coming around. Until very recently there seemed to be a principle that it was better the criminals were out at sea doing something wrong than in someone’s house. However the fines recently have been closer to counteracting the potential benefits of the crime. Last year two fishermen over the border in Southampton Water were fined £5,000 each for obstruction when one used his boat to block the IFCA Officers whilst the other dumped his illegal catch overboard.
This sort of crime not only depletes marine wildlife, but commonly degrades habitats, often in protected areas, and damages the livelihoods of legitimate fishermen.
Finally dogs. Almost all of DWT’s nature reserves are open access and we encourage people to enjoy nature without damaging the wildlife in them. Many such sites are however sensitive, either from the nutrients dog mess leaves behind, or to disturbance from the dogs themselves. This is especially true in the bird-nesting period or near livestock. On open-access land dogs must be on a short lead between 1st March and 31st July and at all times near livestock. “Reckless” disturbance of specially protected birds like the heathland specialists Dartford Warbler and woodlark whilst they are nesting is also an offence. Many dog owners are very responsible and understanding, but I’ve met some that aren’t and give the good owners a bad name.
Our wardens are very diplomatic in asking owners to keep their dogs on a lead, but it is surprising how many think their dog is under control, even though they are ranging far and wide on a sensitive site like a heath. The principle here is consideration for others and for wildlife, though we want people to enjoy nature and thus support its protection.
The most common wildlife crime in Dorset sadly is poaching of deer using dogs. DWT has on occasion had incidents of this on our nature reserves.
These are just a few of the crimes against wildlife that are surprisingly common in Dorset. The laws are there. We have to make sure they are enforced in a sensible, sensitive, balanced way and that the punishment matches the financial gain from the crime. It’s often as much about maintaining a set of sensible principles as it is about adhering to the law.
Anonymous 7, Mar 2018 @ 14:47
I reported several dead birds in black bags that had been dumped on my property. Nobody was interested, not the council, police, environment agency, absolutely nobody. After the maggots and smell had gone and the bones came out I had these identified by the RSPB who told me they were wild geese and advised me to ring the police and report it as a wildlife crime. I rang them to find that they didn't even have a record of my original call. I found that incredible. I do despair at the human race.
A lot of wildlife crime happens and nobody wants to know.
Anonymous 7, Mar 2018 @ 14:57
I notice that there is no mention of the fox hunting which is still going on. Making the excuse that it is "accidental" just won't wash, and having seen some of the footage of protestors being verbally abused and intimidated, it is clear that the perpetrators are in no way feeling guilty.
Anonymous 8, Mar 2018 @ 08:24
Dorset Police have a great team dealing with wildlife crime but they need our eyes and ears. Any evidence you can give that helps a prosecution is a deterrent. Public involvement is key in changing attitudes, not turning a blind eye. We mostly all have phones and can record suspicious activity from a safe distance. Let's protect our wildlife for future generations!
Anonymous 9, Mar 2018 @ 12:43
These are all very important issues but no mention of hunting with dogs in Dorset? Fox hunting occurs almost every day in the county during the season with multiple laws broken repeatedly. This is a common crime in Dorset and one of enormous barbarism, cruelty and arrogance on the part of the numerous perpetrators.
Anonymous 9, Mar 2018 @ 16:43
One of THE (so-called) roads in Sherborne used to have bats in many of the houses and we got them flying into our nearby garden. Haven't seen one for at least two years. We have been in the area for 16 years. We just loved seeing them. How people got away with ridding their property of bats I don't know but I guess nobody queried the loss of these superb creatures.
Anonymous 12, Mar 2018 @ 17:09
We keep on hearing of wildlife crime involving dogs ,when are the powers that be going to wake up to the constant mass murder of all sorts of wildlife caused by cats?All completely legal and there's nothing anyone can do about it.
Anonymous 12, Mar 2018 @ 19:06
£2500 is not really a deterrent for a developer, their profit margins or huge. Timescale is usually a bigger issue than the cost of remedial works with bats. I have heard of people hoovering the loft before a bat survey. Not sure what the answer is.
Dog poo bags are a huge issue in nature reserves. What can be done against people throwing these in the hedges? In Germany people have to pass a test to keep a dog.
Anonymous 13, Mar 2018 @ 09:34
If people were able to report bat sightings or possible bat colonies for a register it might help in prosecutions where barns/sheds are torn down before the authorities are aware of a colony, as was thought to have happened in a new development opposite my house a few years' ago.
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