The Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2018 are the primary statutes designed to afford protection to the various species in the State and which set out the framework for dealing with wildlife crime. In addition, the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 include provisions affording strict protection to a number of species and habitats.
Wildlife crime takes many forms ranging from persecution of badgers, illegal hunting of deer species, illegal hunting of hares with packs of dogs generally known as lurchers, trapping of wild birds such as native finches for illegal trade, wilfully disturbing or destroying the eggs or nests of wild birds, poisoning of raptor species and the illegal cutting of hedges during the nesting season for birds.
While much wildlife crime is local we should not underestimate the dangers involved in investigating it as many perpetrators have links with other more serious crime.
Within my Department, the National Parks and Wildlife Service has responsibility for the protection and conservation of Ireland’s natural heritage, including species protection and biodiversity at national level. The NPWS is therefore dedicated to looking after our species and habitats and NPWS frontline conservation Rangers are deployed through a regional structure. Some of their work entails scientific research and survey work and the monitoring of compliance with national and European law in relation to nature conservation and wildlife crime across the country. The team also conduct patrols and site visits to enforce the various provisions of national and EU legislation and investigate reports of breaches of legislation including the various types of wildlife crime I have already described. My Department works closely with An Garda Síochána who are also specifically empowered under the Acts to investigate alleged wildlife crime offences and to prosecute as they see fit.
In the period 2013 to date in 2019 some 80 prosecutions were taken by my Department for breaches of the Wildlife Acts. As far as counties Leitrim and Sligo are concerned while there have been no convictions for breaches of the Wildlife Acts since 2013 in these two counties, it is a fact while bringing perpetrators of crime to justice is important, the success of dealing with wildlife crime cannot be judged on this alone, as ensuring compliance in the first instance is clearly of critical importance.
Given the concerns that I have surrounding the nature of wildlife crime, an internal Wildlife Crime Group staffed by field staff and senior Departmental officials meets regularly, most recently last week. The Wildlife Crime Group has pursued many important initiatives including the organisation of a major Wildlife Crime Conference last year which was attended by An Garda Síochána and representatives from organisations in Britain and Northern Ireland dealing with wildlife crime.
I am also committed to ensuring that we continue our covert actions with other agencies, including An Garda Síochána and the I.S.P.C.A to counteract these illegal activities.