2nd March 2009

The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) has welcomed news that bats are among animals earmarked top priorities in a strengthened fight against wildlife crime this year.

Wildlife Minister Huw Irranca-Davies has set out the government's wildlife crime priorities for 2009-2010, including poaching, crimes against bats and the illegal trade in endangered species, and urged people to help combat the criminals.

Police and customs officers will work with the National Wildlife Crime Unit, conservationists, countryside groups, wildlife traders and owners to focus on the new priorities, which are based on the numbers of crimes or the effect crime is having on the future of a species.

Action will include stronger, coordinated responses to wildlife crime, specialist training for enforcement officers, raising awareness of wildlife crime and encouraging people to report crimes, and intelligence to identify, detect and prosecute the criminals involved.

Huw Irrance-Davies said: 'People and communities can help us in the fight against wildlife crime. Nobody can afford to sit on the fence and let these crimes go unpunished.

'Wildlife crime matters, it has an impact on our environment and on the ecosystems, habitats and wildlife that supports our very existence. Information and intelligence are going to be key in this fight. We need to tackle these crimes through effective partnerships.'

BCT Chief Executive Amy Coyte said: 'This renewed emphasis on fighting wildlife crime is very timely. Bats are essential to our eco-systems yet their numbers have decreased dramatically in the past few decades. They are still routinely the victim of crimes that destroy their roosts and ultimately harm our environment. Bats have also been victims of negative stereotypes, making them less favourable for attention than other at-risk species. The Bat Conservation Trust is working to promote their importance and help save these wonderful animals. We are delighted to have such a clear indication of the government's support.'

For more information, go to www.defra.gov.uk/paw/