Teenagers are killing badgers and committing other wildlife crimes to gain social media clout on TikTok and other platforms, charities have warned.
Increasing numbers of young people are sharing badger killing trophies and other evidence online, according to the Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL).
The charity has warned that wildlife crimes hit a record level in 2021, following a spike during lockdown, when criminal gangs also used social media to organise badger attacks while there were fewer witnesses.
The pandemic may also have increased the reporting of wildlife crimes, as more people took trips in the British countryside.
Teen jailed over animal deaths
There were 1,414 reported wildlife crime incidents, including hare coursing, persecution of badgers and bats and disturbance of seals, in 2021, a small increase from 1,404 in 2020, the report found.
While convictions doubled on 2020 rates, only 55 people were convicted of wildlife crimes by the police.
The report highlighted in particular the role of the internet to "network, organise, and normalise badger crime."
In February, a group of teenagers in Burnley were banned from keeping animals for ten years after sharing more than 180 videos on TikTok of them using dogs to kill badgers, deer, rabbits and birds.
Two of the teenagers were fined £500 and £1,000 each, and one received an 18-week prison sentence.
'Hobby explorers' disturbing bats
The report also warned of the rise of "hobby explorers" who use social media to post about trips into abandoned houses to caves, underground WW2 bunkers and disused railway tunnels, which it said could disturb bat populations.
In one video posted on social media, an explorer entered a sealed off cave and stroked roosting bats, and was later interviewed by police.
WCL warned that the scale of wildlife crimes was likely to be underestimated because of a lack of resources for official recording and monitoring. It called for the Home Office to collect specific data on wildlife crimes.
It also warned that the Retained EU Law Bill, which could repeal European wildlife protections, could lead to an increase in abuse.
"Wildlife crime soared during the pandemic and remained at record levels this year," Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of WCL, said. "Progress on convictions is positive, and we welcome DEFRA's efforts to stiffen sentencing, but overall that is of little use while the rate of successful prosecutions remains so low."