South Yorkshire Police Chief urged to improve responses to wildlife crime

Stephen Watson, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police is coming under increasing pressure to improve responses to reports of wildlife crime in the region.

In July this year, Liz Ballard, Chief Executive of Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust held a meeting with Stephen Watson along with local MP Angela Smith (Hen Harrier Species Champion), Mark Thomas (RSPB Investigations) and Supt Nick Lyall (Chair, Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group) to discuss concerns about South Yorkshire Police’s apparent failure to follow up on a number of wildlife crime investigations, especially on grouse moors in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park, a national raptor persecution hotspot.

One such apparent failure involved the poisoning of a raven that had been found on a grouse moor in the Dark Peak. It was reported that Natural England refused to have the corpse tested for toxicology, so the RSPB paid for it to be done privately, and when the results were given to the police they did nothing for a year (see here).

Earlier this year there was also concern about the behaviour of a police officer reportedly working with gamekeepers from the Moscar Estate and who later had to apologise to a member of Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust for his actions (see here).

The July meeting with Chief Constable Stephen Watson was an opportunity for a frank exchange of views and this included letting him know that the perception is that South Yorkshire Police ‘are not interested or active in tackling wildlife crime as there is a conflict of interest between the officers leading on wildlife crime and their personal involvement in the shooting industry‘. CC Watson responded by saying it was ‘helpful for the police to have good community links with the shooting industry to be better able to tackle wildlife crime‘.

As a follow-up to the meeting, where a number of action points were identified, Liz Ballard and Mark Thomas have written an open letter to Stephen Watson as follows:

It’ll be interesting to see how Stephen Watson responds.

Kudos to Liz Ballard and her team at Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust for their determination to tackle wildlife crime in the region. Liz is one of several new faces to express an interest in joining the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) earlier this year and she told us recently that having now attended several meetings she is keen to have the Trust’s membership of that group formally ratified without any further delay.

As further evidence of the Trust’s commitment to this issue, Supt Nick Lyall has been invited to speak at the Trust’s AGM in September. This event is open to the public and further details/tickets can be found here.

UPDATE 9 September 2019: South Yorkshire Police commit to improved responses to wildlife crime (here)

14 thoughts on “South Yorkshire Police Chief urged to improve responses to wildlife crime”

  1. This shows that wildlife organisations can have a strong role which may help to change present attitudes. Excellent.
    I did find the statement ‘helpful for the police to have good community links with the shooting industry to be better able to tackle wildlife crime‘ quite amusing. I’d better stop there.

    1. You were not the only one. Trouble is it is laughable but deadly serious at the same time.
      That letter is fantastic. Gives you hope when you have someone so willing to shake things up.
      A breath of fresh air!

  2. An excellent initiative, though disappointing that the SRWT and the RSPB had to adopt such forceful tactics to shame SY Police into acknowledging their responsibilities in this area of criminal activity. Looks as though some weeding out of certain personnel is appropriate.

  3. What has been revealed is most disturbing. However, the problem is not exactly new or unique. It all looks like there is a fifth column at work.
    Elliot Ness – where are you ?

  4. Unfortunately this simply illustrates and confirms the worst impression that we have of Police response to wildlife crime. There are undoubtedly Police forces around the country with very good wildlife crime teams, this is a glaring example of a not very good force, Nick Lyall and the South Yorkshire force should be rightly embarrassed.
    Hats off to Liz Ballard, there should have been a very swift response to this situation, that there was not is every bit as telling.

  5. Excellent! The bad old days when police forces could get away with having WCOs or others dealing with wildlife crime who had associations with the shooting community are coming to an end. If they still do there’ll be public finger pointing as there is here, the fact this has been done by a senior member of a conservation organisation gives this an awful lot of weight. Fingers crossed a precedent has been established. I won’t need to mention any names, but there were cases that were nothing short of scandalous where police officers who were keen shooters put themselves forward to be WCOs, were accepted and the results or rather non results were entirely expected. That should have been the focus of a press expose years ago and we still need one to hasten the end of this and to give the public an idea of how much undue influence a certain clique has had on civil society and its institutions.

  6. It’s a bit like Leicestershire Police where the wildlife crimes officers have far too cosy a relationship with the local hunts – who get away with continually breaking the law and even got away with GBH until a private prosecution was brought.

    There is a problem, of corruption in the whole police and judicial system: the front-line police are either hamstrung by senior officers or too busy tugging their forelocks to their perceived lords and masters and the CPS / judiciary are just too concerned with not losing their days out shooting, riding with the hunts or getting invited to the balls!

    [Ed: Simon, this is lazy generalisation that really doesn’t help. As you’ll know from reading this blog, there are some outstanding police officers working their arses off to bring the wildlife criminals to justice. Sure, there are others who probably shouldn’t be in the force at all and indeed, some WCOs that are hamstrung by senior officers. Please don’t dismiss them all as corrupt]

  7. There’s an issue when the CC can’t recognise where there might be a clear conflict of interest – community policing is one thing where police take the initiative – it’s an entirely different matter when these ‘relationships’ are formed by “invitation” – the presence of Angela Smith MP or any other MP at a meeting with police isn’t always possible. That will have had more than a positive effect.

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