BEaStly Business: Examining the illegal trade in Bears, Eels and Songbirds

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Politics


This research project tackles an important but overlooked problem: the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) in European species. Current debates about IWT focus on the trade as a problem of Africa and Asia, and pay attention to the threats posed to the world's most iconic species (such as elephants and rhinos). However, IWT is a problem on our doorstep, which constitutes a key threat to biodiversity, yet it is not high on the agenda in academic, policy and public debates. Europe is an important site of production, consumption, and transport of wildlife. The BEaStly Business project aims to fill a gap in our knowledge about illegal trades in European species, and thereby draw attention to this overlooked area. It will provide policy relevant information and advice in order to transform and improve policy interventions to tackle IWT.

The BEaStly Business project will examine the illegal trade in European eels, songbirds, and brown bears. The research will analyse the ways in which a complex combination of levels of charisma, consumption patterns amongst (wealthy) consumers, uncertain and incomplete scientific knowledge about species status, and legal loopholes underpin and drive IWT in European species. Concern about the trade in songbirds is rising among conservationists, while trade in eels is rapidly becoming a major source of concern as one of the largest wildlife crimes in Europe (if not the world) and the trade in brown bears is an emerging issue, which has yet to register as an arena of concern for conservationists. The illegal trade in European eels is poorly understood, but is recognised to be a significant wildlife crime, which impacts negatively on this migratory species. Little is known about the impact of the illegal trade in songbirds in Europe - many of the species are migratory, so estimates of populations fluctuate and the conservation community has only recently begun to explore the impact of the trade on bird populations. The illegal trade in brown bears is even less understood, and could be masked by legal activities such as trophy hunting and problem bear control - with little and uncertain knowledge of the size of bear populations in Europe, the trade could be having a silent, but devastating impact.

The research team will bring together two key approaches, political ecology and green criminology, to develop our understandings of IWT in European species. Using political ecology will fill a key gap in knowledge by highlighting the dynamics of power in how European species are illegally traded; green criminology will provide an important perspective on how we define harms against the environment. There are intersections between these two fields but integrating them further will yield a fresh perspective on how we understand and tackle the involvement of legitimate business interests in illegal activity. In order to do this the research will use the lens of green-collar crime (van Uhm, 2016) to cast light on hitherto overlooked actors in IWT: legitimate businesses. Green-collar crimes are a type of white collar and/or corporate crime, or are committed by legally registered companies involved in illegal activities, or which use their infrastructure to facilitate illicit trade (Van Uhm, 2016; Wyatt, van Uhm and Nurse, 2020). Current debates overlook these actors in favour of a focus on organised crime networks as responsible.

The BEaStly Business team will disseminate its findings to academic and non-academic communities via publications, conferences, policy briefs, knowledge exchange events and one-to-one meetings; key stakeholders have been involved in shaping the research since its inception in order to ensure it meets their needs and has the ability to shape policy.


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Description Conference on Global Organised Crime OC24 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The Beastly Business team presented our research at a catwalk panel titled Green-collar crimes and the illegal wildlife trade in Europe on December 2nd at the 2021 Conference on Global Organised Crime OC24 coordinated by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime and the International Association for the Study of Organised Crime. The OC24 was a virtual conference that brought together scholars working on topics related to organised crime.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description EU Wildlide Action Plan consultation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The Beastly Business team submitted written evidence to the European Commission public consultation on the evaluation of EU Action Plan Against Wildlife Trafficking (WAP) in 2021 and was then invited to give additional evidence in January 2022 by the Bio Innovation Service who were commissioned to review the expert contributions on behalf of the European Commission to inform the design and outlook of future EU action plans. The contribution made by the team will inform future policy development and will have global reach. It may also lead to further follow on activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022