An open letter signed by wildlife experts has been sent to DEFRA and the Home Office urging Ministers to renew funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

Dr Jane Goodall, Joanna Lumley, Kate Humble, Ben Fogle, Steve Backshall, Simon King, Mark Carwardine, Simon Reeve, Dr Charlotte Uhlenbroek and Deborah Meaden have co-signed a letter with World Animal Protection requesting answers as to whether the NWCU will fall victim to government cuts.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) is a world-leading police unit dedicated to supporting wildlife crime investigations and is fundamental to providing and analysing national wildlife crime intelligence across the UK. Without them, a huge number of wildlife crime cases would not be successfully investigated or prosecuted.

But, with imminent funding cuts approaching, the future of the unit is under threat and in only four months their work could face complete collapse.

Ministers refuse to rule out the Unit being scrapped due to budget cuts. The NWCU’s future looks in grave danger as their funding comes to an end in March 2016.

Despite World Animal Protection, the Head of the NWCU and MPs asking Defra for clarification on the funding of this vital unit, Defra will not provide reassurance that the future of the NWCU is secure.

Funding to tackle the illegal wildlife trade has already been allotted at £10 million over 2015/16 and 2017/18. So it would be sensible to assume the department is aware of where this money is to be used. With the Government seemingly prioritising their fight against wildlife crime, the lack of financial commitment to the UK’s own national unit is causing deep confusion and concern to all those involved in protecting wildlife from crime, particularly when it only requires a fraction of their budget – £278,000.

In 2014, the NWCU were granted two years’ funding; but previous to that they had to fight to stay open every single year. This endless cycle of uncertainty has been a huge drain on their resources.

Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Martin Sims, said: "We are the only police unit in the UK that’s solely dedicated to dealing with wildlife crime.

“Our focus is on assisting police forces in responding to a wide range of wildlife crimes including hare coursing, poaching and the trade in protected species as covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

“As well as our successes in helping to bring to justice the people who commit these crimes, we’ve also identified through our intelligence and analytical work that the UK is not just a transit route in the trade of endangered species but a trading hub. It is fair to say that if funding to the National Wildlife Crime Unit is cut, then the unit itself may no longer viably operate or continue to support police forces in the way that it currently does.”

Head of UK Campaigns at World Animal Protection, Alyx Elliott, said: “We are grateful to the support shown by these eminent wildlife experts in fighting for the security of this vital police unit. Wildlife crime is abundant across the UK and internationally with animals being harmed, persecuted and taken from the wild. Animals are hunted, smuggled, butchered for their body parts or kept alive in order to be sold on. The NWCU is absolutely critical in the fight against wildlife criminals. Without them, wild animals will be at a much greater risk of suffering cruelty.”

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