Interesting report in The Telegraph today about the proposed partial funding of the National Wildlife Crime Unit by birder and author Mark Constantine. The name will be familiar to birders everywhere as Mark is one of the authors of the seminal birding guide The Sound Approach.
Whilst on face value it is an incredible philanthropic gesture from MC to offer to pick up the shortfall for the NWCU budget, one that may cost him £50k per annum it opens up (or it should) a huge debate about whether rich individuals should be able to, or need to, fund police activities in the UK.
Whilst birders, including myself, across Britain would no doubt place the funding of the NWCU as a high priority given the continued persecution of many iconic raptor species and the continued threat of the theft to order of falcon eggs and young is it right that that funding should come from one individual? Would we be so happy if we knew that individuals who take a different view on birds of prey for example were providing funding to the wildlife crime unit or would we howl in protest and hint at influence and corruption?
What the Telegraph article and the negative comments from the Police Federation fail to declare though is that this wouldn't be the first time they had been funded by external individuals. You need go no further than the NWCU 2009 report to find references to 'partnership funding' more specifically funding provided by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) to fund a poaching project officer for England & Wales. Whilst again there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing we should all be more concerned about rich individuals having too cosy a relationship with senior police officers.
If this is part of the so-called 'Big Society' then those involved, at least at the Police end need to ensure that there are processes in place to protect us and the NWCU from undue influence being exerted. In this instance negotiations in my view should be undertaken by a police representative who has no influence on the NWCU and all donations of this nature should be publicly declared and not made for a specific purpose or project within the unit. Individual donors whether rich philanthropists, or interest groups should not be in a position to directly dictate policy and priorities.
Whatever your views, Constantine is obviously an individual who is prepared to back up his beliefs with hard cash and his heart seems to be in the right place, if only more rich Brits were like-minded we may have a whole lot less wildlife crime to have to investigate in the first place.