Environmental and Wildlife Crime in Sweden from 2000 to 2017

Date01 August 2020
Published date01 August 2020
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2020, Vol. 36(3) 403 –427
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986220927123
Environmental and
Wildlife Crime in
Sweden from 2000 to 2017
Richard Stassen1 and Vania Ceccato1
This study combines police records with newspaper articles (media archives) to
report the nature and trends of environmental and wildlife crime (EWC) in Sweden
from 2000 to 2017. Geographic information systems (GIS) and spatial statistical
techniques are used to implement a temporal and spatial analysis of EWC in Swedish
municipalities, which are split into three types: urban, accessible rural, and remote
rural. Findings show that following the 2006 legal reform that increased possibilities
for prosecuting EWC, the number of both police-recorded cases and newspaper
articles increased and eventually stabilized. They also show that although the
majority of EWCs are minor crimes, particularly in urban municipalities, many of the
more serious crimes show chronic temporal and spatial patterns in more rural and
remote areas. The persistence of certain serious crimes over time is interpreted
as an indication that the costs of breaking environmental law are low relative to
economic gains. Then, drawing from criminological theory, the article finishes by
discussing implications to research and policy.
environmental damage, green criminology, GIS, cluster analysis, media, Scandinavia
Environment and wildlife crime (EWC) constitutes a broad category of offenses
with no strict definition. For the purpose of this study, EWC is defined as those
offenses formally criminalized in Sweden’s penal code, varying in scope and sever-
ity from minor instances of littering and waste burning, to severe cases of poaching
1Department of Urban Planning and Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm,
Corresponding Author:
Vania Ceccato, Department of Urban Planning and Environment, School of Architecture and the Built
Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Teknikringen 10A, Stockholm 10044, Sweden.
Email: vania.ceccato@abe.kth.se
927123CCJXXX10.1177/1043986220927123Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeStassen and Ceccato
404 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 36(3)
and industrial chemical spills (Appendix 1). On average, the Swedish police record
around 5,000 EWCs each year (or about 50 per 100,000 inhabitants), whereas
national newspapers print around 200 articles about offenses. In Sweden, as well as
more broadly, research on the nature and trends of EWC has been a neglected area
(Lynch et al., 2013; White, 2008). Lynch et al. (2017), for instance, have argued that
a lack of quantitative methodology in green criminology has limited the generaliz-
ability of many studies, and restricted the potential for dialogue with more orthodox
criminological research.
One possible explanation for this paucity of quantitative analyses could be the
lack of reliable official data. EWC is by its nature difficult to detect because it often
occurs “out of plain sight.” For example, research in Sweden has found that EWC
tends to be reported close to roadways, where it is more likely to be detected by
people engaged in routine activities (Ceccato & Uittenbogaard, 2013). Official
records thus tend to miss the true magnitude of EWC because detection often
depends on citizen reporting and routine inspections, neither of which are likely to
detect crimes that occur in more remote areas (but see Ferrara, 2012, for a look at
newer aerial surveillance technologies that could be applied to EWC detection).
Official police records of EWC may, therefore, be more reflective of the practices
and policies that facilitate detection of EWC, rather than reflecting the true pattern
of these crimes. In light of this, qualitative methods such as case studies may be
appealing, offering holistic views of specific crimes when data sets capturing the
full scope of EWC may be unavailable. An alternative is to supplement quantitative
data sets with qualitative elements—although this does not overcome the limita-
tions in official EWC records, it can offer insight into the nature of EWC, which
can inform interpretations of quantitative data.
The aim of this study is to report the nature and trends of EWC in Sweden from
2000 to 2017. This study builds on previous research of EWC in Sweden, in particular
Ceccato and Uittenbogaard (2013), and combines two data sets—one quantitative and
one qualitative—each providing complementary perspectives on the nature of Swedish
EWC. To achieve this, police crime records are analyzed for spatial–temporal trends,
and geographic information systems (GIS) and spatial cluster techniques are used to
create maps of high and low concentrations of EWC, over time. This high-level analy-
sis is then supplemented by a media analysis of print newspaper archives, which pro-
vides deeper insight into the specificities of EWC in these areas, and allows inferences
into the causes of chronic EWC hot spots.
EWC in the Swedish context is interesting for several reasons. Sweden and other
Scandinavian countries have a long tradition of dealing with environmental issues, and
of serving as models for other countries worldwide, which makes them an interesting
case from an international perspective. Moreover, theories and examples from North
America and the United Kingdom dominate the international literature on crimes
against nature and wildlife (e.g., Adler & Lord, 1991; Cochran et al., 2018; Lynch
et al., 2020; Pendleton, 1997; Thomson et al., 2020; Wellsmith, 2011; White, 2013).
Finally, spatial–temporal analyses of EWC are rare, and so the results we present are
of immediate relevance to Swedish policy makers.

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