Malaysia embraces Melanie's work on the illegal wildlife trade
RESEARCH into how the law can be used to protect endangered species has led to a University of Huddersfield lecturer's expertise being harnessed by an overseas nation that has some of the world's most diverse and fascinating wildlife.
Melanie Flynn, who specialises in "green criminology", was commissioned to carry out research for the UK arm of the World Wildlife Fund, leading to a report on sentencing for illegal wildlife trade in England and Wales.
This led to her being put in touch with the WWF in Malaysia, a super-diverse country that is home to species that include tigers, elephants, the Sumatran rhinoceros and the orang-utan.
"The WWF were setting up a meeting with the judiciary in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, where they have environmental courts to deal with wildlife crimes," said Mrs Flynn. "They flew me out as an expert adviser. I gave presentations and we ran some workshops. We got a commitment that the Malaysian judiciary would set up a committee to introduce sentencing guidelines for wildlife offences."
Progress has been slower in the UK, a country that is highly significant as a destination and a transit country for wildlife trafficking - claimed to be the world's fourth largest transnational illegal crime.
On behalf of the WWF, Mrs Flynn - who has degrees in both the law and criminology - produced a report on sentencing policy for wildlife trade offences in England and Wales. It was the result of a process that included an experts' workshop and interviews with CPS prosecutors.
The research examined 174 cases of illegal wildlife trade that resulted in convictions in courts of England and Wales and found that most cases resulted in non-custodial sentences and that fines were low - most of them being less than the value placed on the wildlife products that had been traded.
"Overall, sentencing was considered to be somewhat inconsistent as well as lenient when the high profits and significant harms of offending were taken into account. It was also found that there was little knowledge or experience of illegal wildlife trade or its impacts amongst criminal justice organisations... this was particularly the case for the magistracy and judiciary," states Melanie Flynn's report.
It was also found that wildlife crime was not always viewed as seriously as it ought to be and that there were limited resources available for tackling it. Mrs Flynn and the WWF therefore called on the Sentencing Council - which promotes greater consistency in sentencing - to draft guidelines. However, it remains resistant to the idea.
Although frustrated by this, Mrs Flynn continues to work with the WWF on wildlife crime, with her Malaysian connection being one result. Also, she was invited to contribute to the journal of the Magistrates' Association, and this has been important in raising awareness of the issues, she says.
In addition to her research on sentencing, Melanie Flynn - who has worked as a crime analyst and who has been a research fellow at the UCL Jill Dando Institute Crime Science Lab - is also working on preventative measures in the field of wildlife crime.
"My background is in situational crime prevention, which is about opportunity reduction on the ground. It is about altering the environment to reduce opportunities to offend, but it is also about removing the frustrations that individuals hold," said Mrs Flynn, who includes green criminology in one of the modules she teaches at the University of Huddersfield.
"Some of the killings of endangered species are in retaliation because crops have been trampled or livestock might have been attacked. Measures such as compensation schemes can remove the incentive to retaliate. But we also need to provide more legitimate opportunities for people involved in poaching. We are talking predominantly about countries where there is a lot of poverty and not a lot of opportunity."