Taking aim at crimes against wildlife
Even though the PSNI has many other challenges, the force has found the resources to help stamp out poaching and trading in endangered species
The deer hunter: Emma Meredith has been closely involved with the PSNI’s new campaign against deer poaching. Photograph: Klaus Vedfelt/Taxi/Getty
There is a widespread belief here, on both sides of the Border, and probably in most countries, that the police don’t care very much about crimes against wildlife, especially where there is no direct threat to humans.
It’s a prejudice I shared until an incident on Rogerstown Estuary, in north Co Dublin, five years ago. I had seen someone shooting within the BirdWatch Ireland reserve, disturbing large flocks of roosting geese, ducks and waders. I was volunteering as a hide warden there, and we had been instructed not to approach suspected poachers but to summon the Garda to deal with them.
I called the local station, but I didn’t really believe the garda who told me he would send a squad car over as soon as possible. In any case, the shooter quickly moved out of view. I was pleasantly surprised when I got a call from another garda, less than half an hour later, asking if I would come to identify some dead birds. He had found a hunter off the reserve, on a public road, but with three dead geese on his belt.
It was impossible to prove that this man had shot them in the reserve, and he said he hadn’t, but the garda suspected that the birds were protected and, therefore, illegal quarry for hunters.
He didn’t claim to be an ornithologist, but he was a smart cop. The hunter had told them these were greylag geese, a legitimate target under many circumstances. But these birds were black and white, not grey. The garda’s instinct was spot on. These were brent geese, long-distance migrants that are fully protected by law here.
In court the judge took the case as seriously as any other, and fined the poacher. I had to drop my prejudice about the law and wildlife.
It’s hardly surprising, though, to find similar prejudices in postconflict Northern Ireland. Given the the huge challenges faced by its police service, people could be forgiven for thinking the service has bigger priorities than poached deer, limed finches or trading in endangered species.
Emma Meredith has been the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s wildlife liaison officer since 2007, and it’s part of her job to change this perception. The police are there to uphold every aspect of the law, she says, and they will pursue wildlife criminals as energetically as any other lawbreakers – as long as they are notified about their activities. “Every single officer I have worked with on a wildlife crime has been fantastic,” she says. “I do all I can to reassure people that their reports will be listened to and acted on.”