Wildlife crime in Poland

Wildlife crime is one of the leading causes of species extinction around the world. A report published by WWF Poland shows that Polish services are fighting an uphill battle against criminals. Between 2015 and 2020 alone, Polish customs officers seized more than 420,000 specimens of protected plant and animal species, and the police recorded 33,870 violations of the Polish Nature Conservation Act.

Full national report (in polish and english) is available here: Wildlife Crime in Poland

Poaching, illegal trade in protected species, wildlife trafficking and environmental pollution are all serious crimes. It’s worth keeping this in mind, as penalties become more severe. On 1 September 2022, new law entered into force in Poland. Under the revised legislation, sanctions for damaging the environment are heavier than they used to be (more on that here). But will it be enough? In 2015-2022, before the implementation of the new regulations, relatively few environmentally harmful activities were classified as crimes. Most of the 33,870 violations of the Nature Conservation Act were treated as misdemeanors. Nearly half of the cases resolved with a warning. Harsh penalties, if any, were rare. Even less cases proceeded to court. In 2015-2020, only 938 cases were tried in court under the criminal code: 484 cases involving environmental damage, 345 instances of illegal trade in protected species, and 109 offenses associated with inland fisheries.

Is the cooperation between the services and NGOs a solution to the problem?

On 17-21 October 2022, a workshop on wildlife crime was held in Goniądz, Poland by WWF Poland. The workshop brought together representatives from the tax and customs service, the police and the prosecutor’s office. Participants shared knowledge on modes of international cooperation, working with experts and conducting preparatory proceedings, but also on existing laws and current lists of endangered species. Concrete knowledge gained by the participants will help them work more effectively and improve the detection of wildlife crime.

Wildlife crime affects people as well

Wildlife crime often accompanies other illegal and socially destructive activities such as tax violations, money laundering and many more.

“Wildlife crime impacts all of our lives. It comes in many shapes and forms, and pervades many aspects of social and economic life. What’s more, it is not restricted to individual countries, but has an international dimension, too. It is a huge challenge faced by the services, which are often underfunded and left stranded.”

Rafał Rzepkowski, species protection expert at WWF Poland.

And this expert adds: “In order to fight these crimes effectively, many people and organizations must work together. Cooperation between the police, tax and customs services, the prosecutor’s office and wildlife experts at the national and international level is especially important. However, this comprehensive approach requires knowledge, training, personnel and financial resources, which our services often don’t get. That’s why, to help bring wildlife crime to an end, we have organized a practical workshop for services from all around the country and intend to hold more similar workshops in the future.”

“The rate of species extinction around the globe forces us to take wildlife crime very seriously. It is crucial that we equip law enforcement agencies with necessary knowledge and tools to enable decisive action”, says Rafał Rzepkowski.

Polish services are caught in an uneven battle – conclusions from the report

In their fight against wildlife crime, our agencies and services (the police, the prosecutor’s office, courts, tax and customs authorities) face significant challenges and are often left on their own. To address this issue, as part of the LIFE SWiPE project, WWF Poland has prepared a report titled “Wildlife Crime in Poland” whose findings informed the national workshop in Goniądz. The report includes case studies of crimes committed between 2015 and 2020. 

What are the most interesting conclusions and how can we help the services to make their operations more effective? 

According to the report, the most immediate systemic problems that need to be tackled in order to make counteracting wildlife crime in Poland more successful include:

  • providing officers with necessary knowledge and training in combating wildlife crime. Detection and prosecution of these crimes requires cooperation of specialists from many different fields.
  • equipping officers with modern technology, including IT tools, to ensure adequate response to new forms of crime.

  • creating a database of experts and specialists representing a spectrum of natural sciences. Their opinions and reports are usually essential for bringing the perpetrators to justice.

  • reducing the time waiting for expert opinions which will significantly enhance the outcome of the proceedings.

  • raising public awareness. People may not realize that some of the items they purchase abroad are illegal in the European Union. Also, without the support and tips from the public, many crimes would go unreported and unprosecuted.

  • establishing a specialized service or dedicated units within the police force with appropriate funding, human resources and know-how.