BAWC Conference

Last weekend two of the team attended the Birders Against Wildlife Crime conference in Bristol. Thanks to Gareth for this summary of the day.

Birders Against Wildlife Crime was founded by a group of birders that were fed up with Wildlife Crime in general and wanted to do something about it.  Their mantra is Recognise, Record and Report and their whole being is about these three R’s!

They have organised two Hen Harrier Days where like-minded individuals meet to peacefully protest at the plight of the Hen Harrier on northern moors. Last year, they had a conference where the speakers talked about their experiences of wildlife crime, whether that was from the Police, RSPB or interested parties point of view.

This year the conference was in Bristol and myself and Natalie went on the Saturday. The day compere was Charlie Moore of “Talking Naturally” Podcasts  and one of the founders of BAWC.

We kicked off the day with a talk by David Lindo of Urban Birder fame.  He talked about his patch in London, the incidents of wildlife crime and the anger he felt at being, what he perceived to be, powerless.  He also talked about the power of TV and how after appearances on programs like Springwatch his local council started listening to him where they once ignored.  He also spoke about hundreds of Long-eared Owls being killed in Serbia until the locals found the worth of them to tourists such as the groups he leads to see the spectacle.

Next came Sergeant Rob Taylor of North Wales Rural Crime Police Team. Rob has reduced wildlife crime by a massive amount by proactive robust policing. He has strong opinions on the way he has done this and the way others should follow, which is based on almost treating wildlife crime like a murder scene and detailing absolutely everything.  He also links wildlife and rural crime like poaching and Badger baiting/digging to more serious crime.  His talk was fascinating – horrific regarding the injuries to Badgers and dogs but also a little depressing as even this unit is threatened with cuts, as well as Rob retiring (job offers welcomed) in a few weeks.

The last talk before lunch was Dr Louise Robinson who is a lecturer in Forensic Biology at the University of Derby. Dr Robinson has made sure wildlife forensics is a subject she can teach on her course and talked about DNA being collected in wildlife crimes. Her intern, Sally Smith, had used her thesis to recreate the exciting breakthrough of getting finger marks from feathers.  It was really fascinating stuff and I think its safe to say there is a little way to go before it can become a mainstream tool for fighting bird crime.

During lunch we got to catch up with Georgina Locock and Emily Joachim talking all things Little Owls and raptors.

After lunch we had a talk by World Animal Protection Partnership which talked about their work in the UK to help police forces.  They actually paid for the Metropolitan Wildlife Crime Officers when they were threatened with closure because of cuts.  They had also done a survey of all the police forces in the UK and graded them in regards to tackling wildlife crime.  It was pleasing to see Gloucestershire Police in the top grading but I am sure Simon Clemett, our WCO, would welcome more resources and training for his staff to get even better.  During these tough times this is where we hope we can help out with advice and training when required.

Next was Bob Elliot who is the Head of RSPB investigations.  He is really on the front line of raptor crime and it was quite clear that it’s a very hard job with long unsocial hours but very rewarding when they manage to get a conviction. Rob talked about several cases in Scotland and Northern England and it was clear how it is almost impossible to get a conviction but speed and information is the key.  Getting people to recognise wildlife crime and reporting it as soon as possible so they can strike when the iron is hot.  He described how little poison was required to kill a bird and also described a case where they had found 34 pieces of poisoned meat put on 7 foot posts which could have no other purpose than to kill raptors.  It was depressing to note that still, with all those baits, no one was charged.

We had a short break and then Stewart Rowden of the Avon Bat Group talked about the laws around the protection of Bats which Gloucestershire is certainly a hotspot for rare species of them.

Mark Avery was the last talk.  He spoke about wildlife crime and particular grouse moors.  He spoke very eloquently about all the issues around grouse moors from water supply, to the ritual burning of heather to improve shooting of artificially high numbers of grouse. He also spoke of other wildlife crimes giving examples from England, Scotland and Wales.  He was adamant that in the end good will triumph over evil.

Just before the end we watched a film about the Black Isle poisoning of Red Kites. This was a very moving film and well worth watching. It was interesting to note that this was probably not a deliberate act of trying to kill kites but the accidental result of trying to poison foxes.

To sum up it was an absolutely fascinating day which we both really enjoyed, and would recommend to both birders or anyone interested in wildlife to go to next year.