The following blog post was sent to us on behalf of Suffolk-based George Millins, and highlights an issue that we have highlighted many times on this site: wildlife legislation ONLY EVER protects wildlife when it is enforced. If the agencies supposed to be enforcing the law (in this case Suffolk police) don’t know or understand the legislation (the Wildlife & Countryside Act), that protection is often lost and important species destroyed.
While the site involved here may have been small, as the post points out, the slow-worms and common lizards present on it were supposed to be protected from killing and injury by the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
(Header image: Part of a dead lizard discovered on the site)
Protected wildlife error admitted as Suffolk Police slow to act in Sudbury wildlife protection battle.
Local wildlife conservators have welcomed an admission from Suffolk Police that “It is accepted that there is no requirement in the Act for the habitat to be deemed ‘protected’ in itself before enforcement action on the part of the Constabulary can take place”, following failure to act at development site last summer.
In June 2020 habitat clearance for building work started at Cats Lane, Sudbury. Babergh Mid Suffolk Council had omitted to attach a special provision in the planning permission that had been required previously for the site. This was for protected lizards to be removed and released in safe areas prior to building started.
Retired engineer and local conservation expert George Millins and other local residents had contacted Suffolk police when the oversight was noticed. But a rural crime officer mistakenly thought that nothing could be done, saying he could not act because ‘the habitat was not protected.’
This was incorrect because not only was the site a County Wildlife Site and as such a part of the protected network of Suffolk’s most precious sites, due to the presence of lizards and slow worms.
The slow-worms and common lizards present are also, irrespective of this CWS status, protected from killing and injury by the Wildlife And Countryside Act 1981.
“I was shocked when told nothing could be done”, said Millins (82), “as I have worked in conservation long enough to know the law”. He brought in reptile and amphibian consultant Tom Langton of the Halesworth-based HCI Ltd., and had advice from a former police wildlife crime expert and a specialist legal firm from Cambridge.
“At first the police internal inquiry brushed off a complaint that went all the way up to the Suffolk Chief Constable Steve Jupp and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore. They supported the opinion of Sgt Brian Calver that has now been found to be in error. It has cost me a considerable sum to get the police to confirm that my understanding was correct and hence, the killing should have been stopped. Goodness knows how many animals were crushed and killed – nobody even checked this properly after the event”, Millins said. “Suffolk police have since even tried to say that their acceptance of the correct interpretation of the law does not relate to this site, which is of course nonsense. We are having none of that”, he added.
Mangled remains of slow-worms and lizards were found as soon as the digger had started work. Suffolk Police did then stop the work at Cats Lane on the second day and the developer was required to bring in experts to fence the site against reptiles and to carry out further trapping and translocation as is required by best proactive guidelines.
Sue Lees, local wildlife gardener, said:
“I am very pleased that Norfolk and Suffolk Constabulary have finally accepted that the law says that if a species is protected, there is no requirement for the habitat to be protected before police enforcement can take place. I trust that this acceptance of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is going to be disseminated into every corner of the Norfolk and Suffolk Constabulary so that there is no repeat of the dreadful scene at Cats Lane last June, and in future our legally protected species get the protection they need when the next lot of bulldozers arrive. I also hope and expect that police forces around the UK will take proper note, and enforce the law properly on any future occasions. The police mistake here must resonate across the country. I would like to know what the Norfolk and Suffolk Constabulary – and other police forces – are going to do to make sure their officers are fully aware of the law in this area.“
Lynn Holt lives locally and is a former owner of the adjoining nature reserve. “It has all been most unsatisfactory and stressful from the Babergh planning going wrong to the builder not taking any steps and the police refusing to come out. We asked the contractors to stop but they carried on, knocking down a hedge and a tree with a woodpecker reported flying in and out of it every day. During the nesting time, can you believe it? “
George Millins added:
“Another part of the Cats Lane County Wildlife Site was bought around 20 years ago by Don and Margaret Cook, who have sadly passed away during the covid 19 epidemic. This good result in terms of getting Suffolk Police to correctly interpret the law is some kind of tribute to their endeavours, even if the protection of the animals could not be achieved on those two days in June 2020.”
For further information please contact: George Millins 07534 263629 and Susan Lees 07975 864142