Almost 1,300 crime incidents affecting wild animals in the UK were recorded by wildlife charities in a year, a report suggests.
The study by 18 wildlife organisations co-ordinated by Wildlife and Countryside Link and Wales Environment Link, found 1,278 incidents were recorded by charities in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available.
Most wildlife crimes were not officially recorded through Home Office crime statistics, so the data from charities was the best available, the organisations said.
But with many types of offences not recorded by such groups, or less visible and likely to go unreported, the charities say the cases they record are likely to be the tip of the iceberg.
Across England and Wales in 2016 there were 612 reports of incidents against badgers, 145 involving bats, 366 with marine mammals and 155 with birds of prey, the report said.
Of those there were about 99 cases where criminal offending was confirmed, and just 22 prosecutions and convictions.
The groups say they are committed to publishing an annual report on wildlife crime figures in England and Wales, as most wildlife crimes are currently recorded as “miscellaneous” offences, so are largely hidden.
The conservation experts also say they want all such crimes to be recordable with specific police recording codes, and a comprehensive annual wildlife crime report produced by the Home Office.
The Ministry of Justice and Sentencing Council should also produce guidelines on investigation and prosecution of wildlife crime, with sufficient resources and expertise so the sanctions criminals face are strong enough, they urged.
Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, said: “Badgers and other animals are suffering and dying, and it is hidden away amid a multitude of miscellaneous offences.
“We are urging the Home Office to heed the public’s sense of injustice at these crimes, and record and report on them transparently, so that resources can be targeted effectively to help stop animals and birds being senselessly killed.”
Kit Stoner, chief executive of the Bat Conservation Trust, said: “These figures show that wildlife crime is still a clear and present danger for British bats, birds, and other animals.
“Inadequate recording and reporting is turning it into an invisible crime – making it impossible for hard-working enforcement officers to target resources effectively and stop criminals in their tracks.”
And Dr Elaine King, director of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: ‘We must protect our wildlife from horrible deaths at the hands of badger baiters, poachers and illegal hunters.
“Scotland has legal requirements to report on this issue and wildlife in England and Wales must not be forgotten.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The Government recognises the importance of tackling wildlife crime.
“That is why, along with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Home Office directly funds the National Wildlife Crime Unit to support its work to tackle these crimes, in addition to providing funding to police forces to tackle all types of crime, including wildlife crime.
“Of course, to tackle wildlife crime, incident data alone is not the whole answer. The National Wildlife Crime Unit gathers intelligence from a number of organisations including police forces, Border Force and bodies such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals.
“The National Wildlife Crime Unit uses this intelligence to produce strategic and tactical assessments of wildlife crime across the UK.”