Labour is set to announce a £4.5m funding boost to pay for a police “crackdown” on wildlife crime as part of “the most radical animal welfare plan anywhere in the world”.
The funding increase will see the number of police officers tasked to prosecute wildlife crimes increase from 88 to 170. Such offences include hare coursing, fox and stag hunting, and badger and raptor baiting.
Labour says the additional officers will also work with regional organised crime units to act as the eyes and ears for other animal welfare crimes often linked to organised crime – such as theft of livestock and dog fighting.
The additional funds would enable police to take more effective actions against existing crime, according to Labour, while also ensuring that police forces are ready to enforce planned new offences and stricter rules.
Commenting ahead of the announcement, Labour’s environment spokesperson Sue Hayman said: “Labour’s animal welfare manifesto is the most radical animal welfare plan anywhere in the world.
“While the Tories continue with their mass slaughter of badgers and flip flop on bringing back fox hunting, Labour is determined to bring animal welfare policy into the 21st Century, based on the latest science and understanding.”
Hayman added: “We are calling time on those who have been allowed to get away with illegally hunting, maiming and killing wild animals such as deer, hen harriers, foxes and hares.
“By increasing the number of wildlife and rural police forces across the country we will help protect both wild animals and property in rural communities, and ensure a crackdown on the types of crimes against animals that this Tory government has turned a blind eye to. Labour is the true party of real change when it comes to animal welfare.”
Labour announced last year that it would strengthen the 2004 Hunting Act if elected. Charities and environmental groups have long expressed concerns that illegal fox hunting has continued with some groups ignoring the legislation.
The party’s plans include closing loopholes in the 2004 Hunting Act and introducing a “recklessness” clause to prevent trail hunts being used as cover for the illegal hunting of wild mammals.
Labour also wants to remove the exemptions for “research and observation” hunting and the “use of dogs below ground to protect birds for shooting”. Jeremy Corbyn’s party has said it will consult on the introduction of custodial sentences for illegal hunting.
A recent poll by YouGov found that 74% of people would like to see prison sentences for people convicted of illegal fox hunting. Custodial sentences were backed by 84% of people intending to vote Labour, falling to 67% of people who intend to vote Tory. A fine is currently the only punishment available to the courts.
Out of the 16 police services that have rural or specialised wildlife crime units, 15 of them have fewer than ten officers working on rural and wildlife crime and the average unit size is around five officers.
Prosecutions for baiting, hunting and poaching have fallen significantly since 2016. In some parts of the country recorded hunting offences are on the rise, while convictions fell from 127 in 2014 to 52 in 2017.