Michael Gove claims British ban on ivory sales will be 'one of world's toughest'

A British ban on Ivory will be one of the toughest in the world in a bid to protect elephants for future generations, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said.

The robust measures, which will see perpetrators face a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail, will cover ivory items of all ages, not just those produced after a certain date.

The announcement comes after a consultation on the issue, in which 88% of the 70,000 responses backed a ban.

Wildlife campaigners claim around 20,000 elephants a year are slaughtered for their ivory.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says that reducing global demand for elephant tusks is essential to ending the carnage.

Mr Gove said: "Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol, so we will introduce one of the world's toughest bans on ivory sales to protect elephants for future generations.

"The ban on ivory sales we will bring into law will reaffirm the UK's global leadership on this critical issue, demonstrating our belief that the abhorrent ivory trade should become a thing of the past."

Defra said that in line with the approach taken by other countries, including America and China, there will be certain narrowly defined and carefully targeted exemptions.

The exemptions will provide "balance to ensure people are not unfairly impacted", the department said.

Exempt items include those comprised of less than 10% ivory by volume and made prior to 1947, and musical instruments with an ivory content of less than 20% and made prior to 1975.

Thai customs officers display confiscated African elephant tusks which are not allowed to be sold in the UK. Credit: PA

Rare and important items of their type, which are at least 100 years old, will be assessed for their rarity and importance by specialist institutions before exemption permits are issued.

Commercial activities to and between museums accredited by Arts Council England, the Welsh Government, Museums and Galleries Scotland and the Northern Ireland Museums Council in the UK, or the International Council of Museums for museums outside the UK, will also be exempt.

WWF chief executive Tanya Steele said the ban makes the UK a "global leader in tackling this bloody trade" and called for "global action" to stop the poaching of the "majestic" elephant.

Stop Ivory chief executive John Stephenson said it is a "significant day for the future of elephants", adding the Government has "taken a momentous step".