New report says current wildlife laws are fractured and calls for ban on poison used to kill birds (pic Kevin Law)
An environment minister has been criticised for refusing to make illegal a substance used to kill birds.
Richard Benyon, the wildlife minister, has said he will not make carbofuran illegal, despite it having no legal use. Instead, the MP favours a voluntary approach to using it.
The suggestion that carbofuran should be made illegal was made in a new report about wildlife crime by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).
Mr Benyon, a millionaire landowner who owns a pheasant shoot in Berkshire and a Scottish grouse moor, is strongly associated with shooting interests.
A law banning the possession of poison to kill birds was brought in in 2006. However, a list of which poisons would be illegal was not introduced.
In the report, the authors highlight the fact that it would be very easy to add carbofuran to this law.
According to Mark Avery, the former conservation director for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Benyon said there is no need to make carbofuran illegal because it is already banned.
Writing on his blog, Avery said: "The most likely place to find carbofuran is a gamekeeper's shed - nobody else has any use for it.
"Mr Benyon employs some gamekeepers himself and many of his friends employ gamekeepers, all of whom, I'm sure, behave impeccably but it doesn't look good when a government minister refuses to make it more difficult for law-breakers to get away with breaking the law."
The report also highlighted a number of general issues with wildlife legislation, with the committee saying current laws are fractured and inconsistently applied.
It said: "Wildlife legislation has become so complex that prosecutions fail and even specialist enforcement professionals struggle to implement it effectively.
"The lack of sentencing guidelines on wildlife offences means that some offenders are being neither punished nor deterred in the courts."
Joan Walley, chair of the EAC, said: "Birds of prey are being systematically killed in this country by poisons that have no legal use, because the Government has failed to make it an offence to possess those substances.
"Brand new legislation is not needed to criminalise possession of those poisons. Existing legislation already allows a simple order listing them to be tabled in the Commons within days.
"I challenge the Government to examine the overwhelming evidence on this and make this simple change by the end of the month - it would be an easy win for wildlife.
"Wildlife protection law in the UK is in a mess after being patched up too many times in an effort to keep pace with offending. The law needs to be consolidated and the courts need to be given sentencing guidelines."
Martin Harper, conservation director of the RSPB, said that in 2011, there were 100 reports of poisoning incidents. He adds: "The sustained illegal killing of birds of prey across the UK is shocking, not only in its scale but also its audacity.
"We urge the government to heed this advice and we trust it will now take the lead on consigning these acts to history. The Committee has clearly signalled that the game is up for wildlife criminals and it's time for a step change in wildlife crime enforcement."
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