What's the biggest type of wildlife crime in Suffolk?
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
We live in inarguably one of the nation’s most beautiful counties.
Home to rolling fields, stretches of stunning coastline and seemingly endless skies, Suffolk has it all.
And don’t forget the countless species of wonderful flora and fauna – many of them rare.
This beauty is part of what makes Suffolk what it is – but unfortunately, there’s a small subsection of society who want to do it harm.
And that’s where Sergeant Brian Calver comes in.
Head of the county’s Rural Crime unit, Brian and his team oversee and deal with all manner of wildlife crime issues, helping to serve and protect the county and all of the species that reside within.
An avid animal and nature lover for as long as he can remember, Brian first began working as a butcher before becoming a firefighter, eventually making his way into Suffolk Police in 1998.
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“After about four years on the frontline response, I went to the traffic unit at Bury St Edmunds and worked there for about seven years before I was promoted. From there, I did response work for a couple more years, and a six-year stint working in custody,” he explains.
And while Brian was working in custody, the perfect job came calling.
“I saw an advert for my current role pop up, which prior to that was a role that didn’t exist – so it was a no-brainer. It was something I felt I could make a real difference with.
“Being Suffolk born and bred, I’ve always loved the outdoors and nature. I’ve predominantly lived in rural areas my entire life, and nature is something I’ve always had an interest in. For me, it’s important to do something you care about, and feel a passion for.”
For the past four and a half years, Brian has been working as a rural crime sergeant. But what is exactly that he does?
“There’s quite a bit to it, which involves supporting my small team. There’s only four of us who oversee the whole of Suffolk. Clearly I’d always love more officers, but rural crime is every officer’s responsibility and despite only being a small team, we manage to make quite a difference.
“We work proactively with farming communities, getting messages out to them and offering relevant advice, where applicable. We also gather intelligence, much of which comes from rural communities, which helps us to identify risks and emerging threats.”
Brian and his team also give training to officers, as well as attend meetings locally, regionally, and nationally that represent their area of work. “A lot of our engagement work involves us giving talks to local groups, such as young farmers and WI groups, or attending rural shows like the Suffolk Show,” he adds.
“But one of the key things we do is, of course, investigate any wildlife crimes as we’re all qualified wildlife officers.”
As defined by the Crown Prosecution Service, a wildlife crime can be defined as ‘any action which contravenes current legislation governing the protection of wild animals and plants.’
This can include hare coursing, fish and deer poaching, hunting wild mammals, illegal badger and bat persecution, bird of prey persecution, and trading ivory, tortoises and other endangered species.
Wildlife crime does not include domestic animals such as dogs (unless the dogs are being used to hunt mammals), cats, rabbits, and doesn’t cover wild animals that have been involved in road traffic accidents.
“Here in Suffolk, the wildlife crimes we see more frequently than any other are probably the blocking and damaging of badger setts,” Brian says.
Setts are badger habitats and consist of extensive tunnels underground, some going as far as 20m.
Under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, it is an offence to damage, destroy or block access to a badger sett, or to disturb badgers in their setts. This can be either a malicious or negligent crime, and comes in many forms.
“In the summer, we also often see an increase in allegations of damage to great-crested newt habitats,” he adds.
A European protected species, these amphibians, along with their eggs, breeding sites and resting places are protected by law.
“Other wildlife crimes we deal with include deer and fish poaching, hare coursing, illegal hunting, and the persecution of birds of prey – whether that’s by poisoning, trapping or shooting.
“And some of lesser stuff we do, that people may not be aware of, is investigating nighthawking – which is illegal metal detecting. As the name suggests, it’s usually done under the cover of darkness, but can happen in the day.”
Brian and his team also investigate offences under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), which is an international agreement to control the trade in endangered species of plants and animals. “One of the most recent cases of this that we dealt with in Suffolk involved a man selling ivory to the Far East,” Brian says.
“At this time of year especially, we get a lot of calls regarding nesting birds and their habitats. A lot of those however are misguided calls with good intentions where people have misunderstood the law. We can advise on what’s legal and what isn’t, and we can investigate it, if there is a suggestion of criminality.
“However, these are still criminal offences and people should come to us with them. But it is part of our job to educate people on what can and can’t be done, and what is and isn’t an offence.”
But what about one of the biggest threats and dangers to the local environment – flytipping? A common misconception, flytipping isn’t actually under the remit of Suffolk’s wildlife police, but rather the local authority who deals with the enforcement of fines and penalties for the offence.
“We work closely with them however – we have a good working relationship with Mid-Suffolk and Babergh and help with them their investigations and vice versa.”
Other organisations that Brian and his team work closely with include the RSPCA, RSPB, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Natural England and the Environment Agency.
“With the RSPCA, RSPB, and the Environment Agency, we often work physically with them, doing enforcement jobs. We’ll also get involved in campaigns with other organisations like Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities and other localised environmental agencies to help promote issues such as coastal habitat disturbances. Partnership is key in what we do, and it enhances our knowledge which is good.”
Brian also spends a large portion of his of time reviewing crimes and incidents from his office, and thoroughly planning investigations. “The time we spend into the planning side of things makes a massive difference when it comes to taking action on the day, and things run a lot smoother.”
Keeping the environment safe and beautiful doesn’t just stop with Brian and his team however – as he urges everyone to play their part, staying vigilant where they can.
“I think one of the key things for local people to do is to go with that gut feeling – there's a lot to be said for intuition. A lot of people, especially those in rural communities, will sense when something seems out of place when they’re out and about.
“If you see something that doesn’t seem right, where possible, take a photo and send it to us. We can advise and what’s legal and what isn’t, and we can investigate it. If you think it looks wrong, report it and we can look at it. If it’s not, that’s fine – we'd rather have a call than miss an opportunity.
“I’d also like to encourage people to download the app ‘what3words’, as it will help us pinpoint exactly where a photo was taken, and it can save us a lot of time. For instance, if you find a dead bird and you think it’s been poisoned, you can send us the location and we can find it easier.”
And when it comes to reporting wildlife crime, Brian urges that people do so via the traditional methods of ringing 101, 999, or filing a report online.
“We get emails from time to time, where people have reported stuff directly to us, but there’s a risk that if we’re on leave or sick, it could get missed and vital evidence could get lost. If something has happened and it’s not an emergency, I would like to encourage people to report is online, as it’s quicker and easier. And any intelligence can be fed to us directly via the wildlife and rural crimes email address, which is email@example.com”