I noted in the excellent website of Kate Macrae http://www.wildlifekate.co.uk/ who is a lover of all things to do with nature, that she teaches primary school children in Warwickshire 2 days a week. Whatever the subject she teaches, I have no doubt that the kids will be much more aware of wildlife at the end. When I was working as a wildlife crime officer with Tayside Police the main thrust of my work was in the detection and prevention of wildlife crime, nevertheless I took a real interest in education. This began with a project in 1997 involving two classes in rural schools to draw attention to the persecution of hen harriers, and finished in 2011 with the project annually involving 2000 pupils across Tayside primary schools.
The pupils had four projects each over the year: to draw an animal, bird, plant or insect, write a short story ‘A day in the life of a police wildlife crime officer’ where they had to ‘investigate’ a wildlife crime of their own choice, keep an autumn nature diary over the period of a week, and lastly, with adult help at home, answer a wildlife crime quiz. All of this was based on a 60-minute DVD on wildlife crime that I created with funding from PAW Scotland.
Here are some of the funnier out-takes from their short stories:
Most of the children in the stories had a keen sense of purpose when they were setting off to investigate a wildlife crime. One girl explained, Responding quickly to a call, I grabbed my gloves, boots …….. and lie detector. No police officer’s kit is complete without that! Typical of some police officers, some of the mini-wildlife crime officers were reluctant to do any work until they had something to eat. Food means energy as this we boy explains: So after I got the phone call I went to get the Weetabix and got healthy because I will be running to catch the salmon poachers. Some are less enthusiastic and give up easily, as did the boy trying – unsuccessfully – to catch an egg thief: I couldn’t find the egg thief so I had my tea and went off to bed
The youthful officers set themselves a variety of wildlife crime to solve. One said, I am here to solve the theft of some stolen eggs and loads of stolen leaves. Also cruelty to cats, dogs, birds, mice, mouses, hedgehogs and geese. Are mouses different from mice? And can leaves really be stolen? Another crime sounded much more serious and CID help would probably be required: I am investigating a murder on a mole. I found a machine gun and a magnum super-rifle. The mole had several gunshots in it. I’m surprised there was anything left of the mole in fact.
Phone calls reporting crimes come in to the police from many sources. On 17 February we got a phone call from a pond in Glenshee where someone had shot a swan. Really! There can also be some unusual spin-off benefits to the police as a result of certain crime. After wildcat kittens had been deliberately trapped by the tails (and the girlfriend of the ‘crime committer’ turning him in to the police as he had stabbed her) the vet had to amputate the cats’ tails. The cats couldn’t return to the wild and the vet decided the police should keep them as police sniffer cats. If they turned out to be no good I suppose they could always be sent to the Isle of Man.
Not all crimes took place locally, and the children sometimes had a fair journey ahead. I got woken up by the phone. It was PC Bill, who said, “You’ll have to come to the Red Sea right away. There is a dead otter in its holt.” When I got there PC Bill said that Jake had spotted the otter when he was in a tree looking for a brown trout. I was really impressed that the pupil knew the home of an otter. Strangely Jake never appeared in the story again! I don’t think he would have been much help to PC Bill anyway if he thought he could find a fish in a tree.
Some mini-cops showed some good strategies to catch wildlife criminals. When they were watching for egg thieves: Sgt Smith and I were disguised as a bush while waiting for the moment to pounce. Others were less innovative and would have a very uncomfortable and jaggy wait: We all sat quietly in a bramble bush while we waited for the egg thieves to arrive. Others who were not police officers probably wanted to be, like the son of a person who reported a foxhunting case. The junior author wrote of him, He is very shy and he is a big fan of the police and the law. You know, I gave him a toy police set and he puts people in handcuffs for leaving the toilet seat up and stuff…..
During the surveillance there were some frightening moments, and some eerie sounds. Two different people heard very strange sounds. One sound was like someone was strangling a pigeon. Now that is completely different from the sound of someone strangling a blackbird. Or a robin. Another heard a sound like someone was opening a packet of specially-cut lime sticks; a sound which of course is unmistakable.
Some wee people were clearly destined for community involvement work, and were keen to prevent crime happening. One who was investigating a foxhunting case saw a person setting dogs on a fox. I jumped from my police van and shouted, “Shoo.” The dogs ran back to their owner and I went on my way. Interview techniques were not required in that case, but some of the mini-sleuths had their own methods. PC Joe had caught his brother Bob poaching deer and arrested him. The interview went like this:
Q So what were you doing in the glen with a shotgun?
A Nothing, just out for a walk
Q With a shotgun? If you admit it now you will not get as long a sentence
A And if I don’t?
Q Ten times the length
A Alright I did it.
Later Bob was sentenced to 2 years in prison. PC Joe said, “Once the case had finished I decided to go home. I had an Indian take away and then went to the cinema to watch Shrek the Third.” He clearly didn’t let the job affect him; after all he’d just saved his brother from getting 20 years in jail.
Another interrogator was investigating the shooting of a hedgehog. He related that there were 50 people in the town. All were asked if they shot the hedgehog. 45 said ‘No.’ One said ‘Yes.’ He was quickly arrested and went to court where he pled guilty and was fined £1543 plus life imprisonment. I was never sure whether the wee author was poor at subtraction or whether the other four people from the town might have been on holiday. In another story a car was being searched during a salmon poaching investigation. The investigator asked what was in the back of the car because the back door was open and a strange smell wandered out
The young police officers remembered that replies made by suspects were not admissible unless the suspect had been cautioned first. Sometimes the caution was not quite right, with one girl saying, it may harm your defence if you don’t mention anything that you will regret in court.
Sometimes the wildlife criminal was not caught at the time and a description had to be circulated to other police officers. Three deer poachers who had run off would be instantly recognisable. One was as fat as a crayon. The second had a sly look on his face and the third looked as if he hadn’t done anything. If they were caught, sometime penalties were severe. In another deer poaching case the man who was caught was put in a cell for 5 nights and 5 days. His dog was found guilty of biting the deer’s neck before it was shot. I was never sure whether this meant that the dog was shot after it was found guilty. In a badger digging case, the judge decided that the criminals get hung, drawn and quartered and their guts get burned. But they were murdered first. Badger digging is one of the worst crimes after all.
Lastly, romance can also blossom from wildlife crime. A lady and her children had witnessed a foxhunting incident, and the children were naturally upset. Before she called the police she managed to trace the man involved. Here is the story: The lady saw the man up close and fell in love. The man said, “I am so sorry I gave you and your children a fright.” The lady invited the criminal into her house. After a while the man pulled out a small wooden box and rose from his seat and opened the box and asked, “Will you marry me.” “OK” she said, but only if you never kill another living thing again.” “OK” he said and they lived happily for the rest of their lives.