We were delighted to learn yesterday that the Government has pledged a further year of funding to the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), saving this vital force from extinction.

The NWCU is a specialist police unit designed to tackle the growing trade in endangered species as well as cracking down on domestic issues such as badger baiting, rare egg theft and snaring. NWCU officers use intelligence and enforcement to bring down criminals involved in wildlife crime, making a serious dent in gangs who use their proceeds to fund serious organised crime.

Although the extension of funding for a further year comes as a welcome relief to campaigners fighting for recognition for this important service, the Government has been criticised for shortsightedness in their approach to wildlife crime.

Campaigner at Network for Animals, Christina Dixon, said, “It is not just human members of our society that deserve the protection of the law. Having a police force which places value on protecting our natural environment and contributes to a sustainable future where endangered species are protected, not sold, is an important consideration.  We hope the Government will commit to a long term strategy for tackling wildlife crime.”

The importance of the NWCU cannot be overstated.  The Scotland-based unit investigate issues such as the trade in rhino horn, an industry which sees horn being traded a black market value as high as gold in Asia.  The multi-million pound illegal wildlife industry is on the rise and London is an international hub for trafficking, meaning the unit needs to be placed at the heart of a long-term strategy for cracking down on perpetrators.

While we commend the latest news from Defra, we hope that the continuation of funding until May 2014 is the first step in an effective campaign to end wildlife crime altogether.