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Wales appoints UK’s first wildlife and rural crime coordinator | Wales


His patch takes in mountain ranges, farmland, rivers, estuaries and almost 1,000 miles of coastline. His in-tray includes getting to the bottom of a dreadful act of sabotage on the nest of a spectacular bird of prey and making sure the arrival of tourists in the summer holidays does not lead to a spike in dog attacks on sheep and cattle.

The Welsh government on Thursday unveiled its wildlife and rural crime coordinator, the first role of its kind in the UK.

Rob Taylor’s job will involve working with the four police forces in Wales, the UK government, other emergency services and wildlife and farming representatives to tackle countryside crime from fly-tipping to heating oil theft.

But the most headline-grabbing investigation he is involved in is the attack on the nest of a pair of ospreys at the Llyn Brenig reservoir in north Wales in May. Just hours after the female osprey laid an egg, an attacker arrived under the cover of darkness and chopped the nesting platform down with a chainsaw. The egg was lost and the ospreys are still at the site without a nest to protect or chicks to nurture.

Speaking at another osprey nesting site, the Dyfi Osprey Project in mid Wales, where two chicks have hatched and are doing well, Taylor said it was a shocking attack. “We’re determined to find out who did this and bring them to justice to show that this sort of crime will not be tolerated,” he said.

In the past ospreys were persecuted because they took fish from ponds or lakes or were targeted by collectors for their eggs. Rumours continue to swirl that the platform may have been vandalised by anglers, but Taylor said he did not believe fishers or sailors who used the lake were behind the attack.

The investigation includes working through automatic number plate recognition data, analysing DNA found at the scene and puzzling out exactly how the attacker actually got to the post, which is remote and surrounded by water.

A pair of ospreys watch over their CCTV-equipped nest at the Dyfi Osprey Project
A pair of ospreys watch over their CCTV-equipped nest at the Dyfi Osprey Project. Photograph: Gareth Phillips/The Guardian

The ospreys may be the most glamorous creatures Taylor is charged with protecting, but saving sheep is crucial too.

He will also work on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) bill going through parliament, which will give the police and courts new powers to investigate and sentence people who allow their dogs to attack livestock.

There are more than 100 attacks a year in the North Wales police area alone, resulting in the deaths of many animals. Taylor acknowledges that an increase in visitors to Wales this summer could lead to more incidents. “But it also means more witnesses,” he said.

His work will also include developing a scheme called Future Farms Cymru, which aims to revolutionise crime prevention on farms by utilising the latest technology.

Sixteen test farms have been established across Wales fitted with state-of-the-art sensors and systems to allow farmers to monitor their equipment and livestock digitally, so if an animal is removed from a location, a gate opened or a sudden drop in stored heating oil or diesel is detected, the farmer and police will be informed.

Speaking at the Dyfi Osprey Project, the Welsh minister for rural affairs, Lesley Griffiths, said she had been horrified by the attack on the ospreys at Llyn Brenig. “In olden days they were vermin, but they’re not vermin now and it’s right we protect them as we do,” she said.

On the road into the osprey centre there is a banner: “Say no to rewilding.” Griffiths said there was a tension between those who wanted creatures such as beavers reintroduced – they have been brought in to the osprey project site to help keep trees down – and people who were dead against it.

“Things are terribly polarised. I get letters telling me rewilding is the way to go and another letter saying ‘don’t you dare do rewilding’. Things are very polarised, more polarised now than they have ever been,” she said.

The attack has made conservationists at other osprey sites in Wales jumpy. Emyr Evans, the project manager at the Dyfi Osprey Project, said extra security measures had been brought in to protect their four birds. All being well, the four – two adults and two chicks – will migrate from mid Wales to west Africa by the start of September.

More security measures including thermal imaging cameras will be in place by the time the ospreys are due back next spring. “We’ll make sure we have the best protected site in the UK,” said Evans. “They deserve it.”



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