Is poaching a wildlife crime?

Grallochs of one night's poaching in Perthshire - 8 roe deer and a fallow deer

Grallochs of one night’s poaching in Perthshire – 8 roe deer and a fallow deer

Red deer shot and injured by poacher with crossbow (courtesy of former Northern Constabulary)

Red deer shot and injured by poacher with crossbow (courtesy of former Northern Constabulary)

Poachers' dogs killing a roe deer (courtesy of Lancs Constab)

Poachers’ dogs killing a roe deer (courtesy of Lancs Constab)

Cage used by poacher for taking salmon.

Cage used by poacher for taking salmon.

The injuries to a hare when coursed and taken by a dog

The injuries to a hare when coursed and taken by a dog

There are many interesting though sometimes controversial subjects relating to wildlife and wildlife crime currently being discussed. Probably the most recent is the argument by some to have poaching removed from the definition of wildlife crime. Poaching in the context of wildlife policing priorities includes deer poaching, fish poaching and hare coursing.

The priorities for the targeted policing of wildlife crime are set by a national strategic Wildlife Crime Tasking and Co-ordinating Group (UK TCG). Key partners are the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW), the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the statutory nature conservation organisations in each of the four constituent countries of the UK, the police, UK Border Force (CITES team), UK National Wildlife Crime Unit, Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Environment Agency, Food Environment Research Agency, Marine Management Organisations and the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew.

Priorities species are determined by their exposure to the risk of criminal activity, of which the rarity of the species has relevance, or of the sheer volume of crime committed against them. In the former category are: crime against bats, freshwater pearl mussels and CITES species (currently European eel, illegal trade in raptors, ivory, medicinal & health products, reptiles, rhino horn and timber). In the latter category are: crime committed against badgers, raptors (including poisoning, egg theft, chick theft, taking from the wild and nest disturbance/destruction and specifically golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, peregrine, red kite and white-tailed eagle), and poaching of the type described earlier.

Poaching of deer and salmon are generally carried out as commercial activities. Deer poaching leaves behind many deer which are injured, having been shot by unsuitable calibre of weapons. The alternatives are their being snared, taken by dogs or even shot by crossbows.  In any of the ways they are taken by poachers there is an animal cruelty issue and I fail to understand why some would want the police to treat this less seriously than any other wildlife crime. It is not even as if all the time of police officers is taken up investigating poaching instead of, for instance, the poisoning, trapping or shooting of a golden eagle.

In relation to the poaching of salmon, for a variety of reasons numbers of fish returning from the sea are still at low numbers compared to what they used to be and they are a valuable resource. Commercial poachers with nets or a cage can harvest a considerable proportion of these fish. Worse, if poachers use Cymag, they can kill every fish in a pool and generally lose many of them that float dead downstream. These fish, and of course unprofessionally-butchered deer, go into the food chain and subsequently can pose a real risk to human health.

Hare coursing with dogs is a particularly cruel way of taking any mammal, and farmers’ livestock is also at risk, as indeed are some farmers who encounter the hare coursers and receive threats of injury to themselves or damage to their property. Lastly, and in my experience, those involved in poaching are invariably involved in other forms of criminality, some of which is violent crime and when caught are often wanted for other crimes or have unpaid fines.

Having attended many of these UK (TCG) meetings in the past – and indeed the inaugural one when the first priorities were set – considerable care was taken by the various experts in their respective fields to set the priorities properly. The priorities have raised the standard for police and UK Border Force investigations, with each of the priorities having working groups in each of the constituent countries to help improve detection and prosecution, reduce the incidence of the respective crimes and to improve awareness through publicity. In addition to the statutory organisations already involved, the working groups are complemented by a variety of ngos.

I doubt that the proposal to drop poaching as a wildlife crime policing priority will be taken seriously. There seems no good reason for alteration unless a priority species is no longer subject to risk of crime or the level of crime drops considerably.

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2 Responses to Is poaching a wildlife crime?

  1. Adam says:

    According to the Encyclopædia Britannica poacing is ‘he shooting, trapping, or taking of game or fish from private property or from a place where such practices are specially reserved or forbidden.’ (

    If I understand it correctly, those who would wish to have poaching removed from the definition of wildlife crime argue that it criminalises acts which are against the interests / rights of the landowner (or those who are entitled to hunt / fish on that land), but the same acts are not criminal if committed with the concurrence of the landowner. In other words, poaching is an offence because it takes place without the landowner’s permission – not because of the killing of an animal, or a particular way of killing an animal, or the occurence of unneccessary cruelty when killing an animal. If one would follow this logic then one could say that deer poaching is not a crime against wildlife, but an infringement of landowners’ right to hunt on their land.

    • There is some logic in this definition but the telling part is ‘a particular way of killing an animal, or the occurrence of unnecessary cruelty.’ This, plus the sheer volume of crime committed against deer, salmon and brown hares UK-wide surely dictates that common sense should take precedence over a now dated encyclopaedia entry.

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