POLICE personnel from Dorset, Devon and Cornwall and Avon and Somerset Police forces have taken part in a three-day conference to gain a deeper insight into the many issues associated with rural and wildlife crime – in particular poaching and how illegal meat enters the food chain locally.

Police officers, police community support officers and special constables were joined by representatives from organisations including the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Environmental Health and Trading Standards, Dorset Deer Management and the UK Deer Initiative last week.

The training sessions aimed to educate delegates about wildlife crime and the legislation surrounding hunting, poaching and various criminal acts that impact on rural communities, whilst sharing best practice, intelligence and operational tactics.

The event, which was opened by Assistant Chief Constable David Lewis at Kingston Maurward College near Dorchester, was the first of its kind in the South West region.

Dorset Police operational lead for wildlife crime, inspector Mike Darby, said: “Cross border partnerships have proved successful in the past, which is why various organisations will be gathering together on a more frequent basis.

“This training event gives officers and organisations opportunities to share knowledge and learn about the huge amount of legislation in relation to different species, including door mice, badgers, eels and bats and also gaining a further insight into fox hunting legislation and animal cruelty offences.”

The event covered an array of legislation which can be used by agencies to successfully prosecute offenders and identify wildlife crime offences. Participants were shown different types of traps and devices used to capture animals, the signs to look for in wildlife being poisoned and illegally killed. Delegates were also shown how to examine poaching sites and seize evidence.

Inspector Darby continued: “There are a wide range of laws which people can be prosecuted for. The people who commit rural crime offences tend to be involved in other types of criminality as well.

“Poachers rarely kill their prey humanely and the use of dogs allows them to attack and cause significant damage to the animal.

“We are contacted on almost a daily basis by members of the community who believe poaching is happening.

Dorset Police work closely with the National Wildlife Crime Unit who provides a close liaison point regarding wildlife crime and associated national intelligence about poachers and criminals who work across county borders.

Inspector Darby added: “Reports of poaching in West Dorset is quite significant. Wild deer and pheasant rearing operations are targeted along with hare coursing and fisheries. These crimes normally happen at night.

“These offences have a significant impact on the landowners where their property is damaged and their livelihoods impacted by criminal activity.

“Illegal traps used to poach and kill wildlife do not discriminate between wildlife, livestock or domestic pets.”

“We often get called by gamekeepers and landowners stating that there are people trespassing on their land. We will seek to take positive action against offenders.”

Crime affects the rural community just as it does in urban areas, according to Inspector Darby. He said: “A pheasant rearing operation; rearing thousands of pheasants each year brings in a huge amount of income.

“If 200-300 birds are killed in one night – either for the pleasure of it or to enter them into the food chain – that clearly has a significant impact on your business.

“People who commit rural crime have a significant impact on land owners and people’s legitimate businesses.” 

“I would encourage anyone who knows people who are involved in this activity to contact us on 101 or speak to officers from your Neighbourhood Policing Team or if a crime is in progress, dial 999.”

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, Martyn Underhill said: “A recent survey by the National Rural Crime Network found that 32 per cent of respondents are more fearful of becoming victims of crime than five years ago, compared to three per cent who are less fearful.

“I have met many rural business owners and residents in my time as PCC who have seen their livelihoods destroyed due to the severe impact of crime. I have met others who fear the same happening to them, so I can understand how the fear of crime is high in rural communities.

“It is vital we work with our communities to ensure we tackle these crimes head on. The role of the wildlife officers in tackling these issues is a key component to this, as is the training recently delivered. ”