Deer poaching at its worst on Exmoor this season
DEER poaching has been at its worst this season with more than a dozen of the animals being shot a week on Exmoor at one point.
PC Martin Beck, wildlife crime officer, has been inundated with complaints about deer shooting taking place on land on Exmoor during the night, which is illegal.
The majority of complaints have been made in the Kentisbury, Holdstone and Martinhoe areas.
PC Beck said people have been going out "lamping" during the night to hunt game, which is legal provided written consent is gained from the landowner.
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But he believes they have then gone on to spot and shoot red deer, which have their second highest population in the UK on Exmoor.
The deer hunting season runs from August to April and is the only time that people can hunt the animal. They must have the correct licence to do so, the correct weapon and only shoot during daylight.
PC Beck said: "I think people doing it are the people involved in drugs and other illegal activity. It is also known as the villain's recreation."
Poaching becomes even more of a problem when the meat from the animal is sold to pubs and restaurants.
If the deer is not gutted in the correct way the meat can become diseased or tainted. It then ends up in the local food chain.
There have been cases where the incorrect weapon has been used to kill the deer which can cause it to suffer hugely before it dies.
PC Beck said extra patrols and visits to local landowners have been carried out to catch the perpetrators.
Penalties for illegally poaching deer include large fines with the option of a prison sentence. PC Beck said: "Anyone shooting illegally is likely to have their firearms license revoked and equipment seized, which can include the vehicle they are in."
He said the next step will be to form a co-operative in the area between local landowners and people wanting to hunt animals on the moor to clamp down on illegal poaching.
He added: "I would encourage anyone stalking or lamping in those areas regularly and landowners with problems to contact me.
"Working together we can make pest/predator control and sport shooting safer and difficult for the poachers to operate."
Contact PC Beck on 101 or visit the British Association for Shooting and Conservation site www.basc.org.uk