Environmental and wildlife crimes are cross-border, global problems that need modern solutions. LIFE projects are using new technologies and digital platforms to help national authorities identify crimes and deter potential offenders. A 2018 LIFE publication on wildlife crime details the many projects supported by LIFE, from training to prevention to enforcement and prosecution.
Catching and prosecuting environmental criminals is the task of the European Network of Prosecutors for the Environment (ENPE). LIFE-ENPE together with 2 other projects – LIFE Natura Themis and the LIFE Northern Bald Ibis project – organised a conference last month on protecting habitats and endangered species. “If we, as prosecutors, can catch those who committed the crime, if we can prosecute, obtain damages and remove the proceeds of crime, then we can make others stop and think twice,” said Anne Brosnan, ENPE President and LIFE-ENPE project sponsor at the event.
Reporting crime in Crete
The LIFE Natura Themis project in Crete encourages members of the public to submit anonymous reports about environmental and wildlife crimes to the authorities. Reports are possible via the online app ‘LIFE Natura Themis’, available for free download on Android and iOS. The app gives members of the public an easy tool to submit reports, and because they can be made anonymously, people have more incentive to speak out – especially on possible crimes in their local area.
“So far the app has been downloaded by more than 120 users and more than 70 reports have been registered,” says Michalis Probonas, the project coordinator. “Most of them have been forwarded to the competent authorities to act on.” Reports are overseen by the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, analysed and, if appropriate, passed to the authorities.
One report from an anonymous citizen has led to a successful prosecution, where solid waste was found to have been illegally dumped on private land near a Natura 2000 site. A €2 000 fine was imposed on the manager of the business responsible.
Ambitions for the project extend beyond Crete. After it ends in September 2020, LIFE Nature Themis will hand over the app to the Greek environment and energy ministry so it can be rolled out across the whole country.
Streamlining intelligence on waste crime
In the UK, the LIFE SMART Waste project runs an online communications hub for regulatory bodies and other interest groups to work together on prevention and intervention. LIFE SMART Waste is led by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). The cross-European hub generates a wealth of information on the waste industry. This enables enforcement agencies to spot vulnerable areas that could become subject to criminal activity.
LIFE SMART Waste is now looking to pilot a secure, web-based application to supplement the hub. “Initially related to cross-border movement of waste, this may offer a potential to share classified intelligence between agencies in the UK and Europe,” explains Iain Brockie, LIFE SMART Waste Technical Team Unit Manager.
LIFE SMART Waste has also created a new practical toolkit to help regulators gather intelligence to identify trends and emerging issues, using publicly-available information. Issues identified can be discussed with interested parties and external experts during workshops. “Gathering these signals of change can provide valuable insights into the future development of waste crime and criminal behaviour,” says Mr Brockie.
A legal footing
The EU’s Environmental Crime Directive requires EU countries to treat certain breaches of EU environmental law as crimes. Killing and trade of protected species, for example, should be prosecuted by national authorities. The LIFE programme has invested over € 80 million in more than 50 projects targeting environmental crimes.