Disbanding of Dorset wildlife crime team puts birds of prey ‘at risk’
Date of alert:
Saturday, 23 April 2022
Birds of prey are being put at risk by the disbanding of one of the country’s leading wildlife crime teams, campaigners have warned, raising fears it could be part of a nationwide pattern.
Wildlife crime officers work to stop offences such as raptor persecution, where birds of prey are poisoned or shot by gamekeepers and landowners.
Earlier this year, a rare white-tailed sea eagle was found poisoned on an estate in Dorset. The local wildlife policing team opened an investigation led by PC Claire Dinsdale, a recipient of the Queen’s police medal for her work on wildlife crime. But weeks later, the case was abruptly closed, and a search on the estate where the eagle was found dead was cancelled. The RSPB described this decision as “baffling”.
Around the same time, the local wildlife crime team was rebranded – removing “wildlife” from its name. Dorset police rural wildlife and heritage crime was renamed as Dorset police rural crime team on its Twitter account, and police sources confirmed this rebrand took place to “reflect the broader work we are undertaking to ensure we provide exceptional local policing to our rural communities”. The wildlife crime section of the local policing website has also been removed.
Dinsdale then went on leave, and the Guardian understands that she has been told that on her return she will no longer be a wildlife crime lead.
Sources who were part of the white-tailed eagle death investigation told the Guardian that they were concerned about the hostility to wildlife crime investigations in the area, pointing out that the local MP, Chris Loder, said that police funding should be focused on other crimes.
Wildlife groups fear that influential landowners who have interests in removing police focus from wildlife crime could take inspiration from the situation in Dorset, and that this pattern could be repeated throughout the country.
Dr Ruth Tingay, a co-founder of wildlife campaign group Wild Justice and author of the Raptor Persecution blog, said: “If police wildlife crime teams are disbanding or rebranding to exclude wildlife crime, this flies in the face of government and police commitments to tackle wildlife crime, and particularly raptor persecution which is supposed to be a national wildlife crime priority but is on the rise according to the latest annual reports.