Jail warning for wildlife crimes
Offenders who commit crimes against wildlife could face jail sentences for the first time now that new legislation has come into force.
Prison terms of up to six months and higher fines of up to £5,000 will help combat crimes including the illegal collecting of rare birds' eggs, the poisoning of birds of prey and badger baiting.
The Wildlife and Natural Environment Act 2011, which has enforced a permanent ban on hare coursing, also provides greater protections for a wider range of plants, animals and birds
Department of the Environment (DoE) Minister Alex Attwood said the introduction of custodial sentences and a doubling of fines should send a strong signal to potential law breakers.
"There is a clear message today - those committing wildlife crimes will be pursued and prosecuted," he said. "DOE is about making Northern Ireland a better place to live, work and invest in. This Act does that."
The new powers extend protection to a wider range of wildlife including the basking shark, sea horse, puffin, red kite and cuckoo.
Mr Attwood added: "For the first time custodial sentences will be an option for the most serious and persistent offenders. This should make people think and think hard about committing wildlife crime.
"The public has a part to play as well in reporting wildlife crime to the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) so that prompt action can be taken against alleged perpetrators.
"The Act will also provide increased protection for a greater range of plants, animals and birds. I am giving enforcement authorities more powers to investigate alleged cases of wildlife crime, coupled with the introduction of new sanctions against those involved in such activity."
The Act also outlines the additional responsibility of all government departments to promote and embrace nature conservation when carrying out their daily tasks. The legislation is the primary tool for the conservation and protection of Northern Ireland's threatened or endangered wildlife.