Creating better tomorrows for all pet rabbits

CAMPAIGN UPDATE – Autumn 2022

Welcome to another Campaign Update, keeping you informed of our constant fight to make things better for bunnies.

Animal Welfare Operations – Half yearly summary

Through the work of our Animal Welfare Officer, we are aiming to tackle the huge problem of unlicensed breeders advertising on classified online adverts. These breeders are not subject to any regulations, legislation, or welfare checks, and they provide no care advice to their customers. They are also very unlikely to provide proper welfare for the rabbits while they are in their care. Our Welfare Officer trawls the classified adverts and looks for patterns that identify larger scale unlicensed breeders. He then investigates the situation using online resources, surveillance, and often paying a visit in person. If he can produce enough evidence, he will report the breeder to the relevant local authority.

Sadly, because of a combination of a lack of legislation, lack of resources or simple apathy on the part of the local authorities, often little or no action will be taken on the cases we raise. However, the investigations will often highlight wider legal issues. A key example is tax-evasion. These breeders are making a large undeclared income, and we are finding that the HMRC is becoming increasingly interested. Our aim is to make it as hard as possible for these breeders to do business, using whatever tools that the law allows.

Cases raised:

In the first six months of the year, the Animal Welfare project has raised 265 cases, a massive 77% increase over the same period last year.

Referrals made:

So far this year, we have produced intelligence sufficient to refer 44 cases to the following agencies:

  • LACS (League Against Cruel Sports) Wildlife Crime Reporting
  • HMRC
  • Local Authority Trading Standards & Environmental Health
  • Local Authority Licensing
  • Crimestoppers
  • MHRA (Medications & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) and VMD (Veterinary Medicines Directorate)
  • Home Office Police Teams
  • British Transport Police
  • CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species)

Projects commenced:

In May, we started a project aimed at identifying traders and trading platforms in Scotland; this is to assist the SPCA Investigation Unit to understand the scope of the problem in Scotland. At the time of writing, we’re looking to launch a similar project in Wales.

An ongoing CITES referral side-project, where we’ve found suspected trade in endangered species or products of endangered species when monitoring a site for rabbit breeding, has resulted in referral and enforcement action both in the UK and overseas.

Surveillance operations:

As we’ve emerged from lockdowns and Covid-19 controls, physical monitoring has increased, with 37 observation exercises carried out since March 2022. 15 visits to licensed sites have been made, adding to the overall tally.

Growing problem:

Monitoring of three trading platforms shows that the large increase in online breeding which we identified during lockdown has not slowed down by any means. In the first six months of 2022, out of 94 traders sampled across three trading platforms, 43 were found to have been trading before lockdown, 36 to have been trading since lockdown, and 15 since January this year. Higher proportions of new traders were found in Scotland and Wales, but this could be because we have had projects on the go that targeted these areas.

Prolific and priority traders:

One of our most prolific targets appears to have shifted away from trading platforms, after concerted monitoring and reporting, and has set up their own web page and Facebook presence for the purposes of trading. This is being monitored and a referral file to their local authority and HMRC is pending.

A number of multi-species traders have been identified this year, including breeders of rabbits and birds, rabbits and dogs, rabbits and cats, rabbits and other small mammals, and combinations of all of the above. These are priority targets, since their diversification makes it far more difficult to claim they are hobbyists, and the money they can make from puppy breeding alone can catapult them onto the radar of HMRC’s evasion teams.

Other offences:

As noted earlier, investigation into rabbit breeding can often lead to other offences being identified. This year alone, our enquiries have resulted in intelligence referrals for illicit tobacco sales, drug trafficking and county lines drug running, CITES endangered species trading, product counterfeiting, as well as vehicle theft and burglary offences. We have also acquired intelligence relating to illegal hunting, including hare coursing, that has been passed to the relevant authorities.

A Hutch is Not Enough petition

We’ve now reached over 109,000 signatures (June 2022)! This is an amazing number, but we would really love to reach our next goal of 150,000. If you are yet to sign it, then please go to http://chng.it/yfTG6VSkTP, or if it’s easier, go to change.org and search ‘harmful rabbit hutches’ – ours is the first petition that pops up. If you’ve already added your name but know someone who might be interested then please let them know. Thank you to everyone who has so far signed and shared.

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