Police and landowners set sights on poachers
A new initiative to tackle the scourge of poaching is being launched by a strategic group including police, shooting interests and landowners.
Project Trespass, which is designed to provide a co-ordinated response to incidents of poaching, will be unveiled on Tuesday by the England and Wales Poaching Priority Delivery Group.
The organisation includes the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) which is lead by Detective Inspector Nevin Hunter who is on secondment from Devon and Cornwall Police.
Earlier this year he warned that a £5 million black market for venison was driving a renaissance of poaching with criminals targeting the West Country's wildlife, including the iconic red deer of Exmoor.
Det Insp Hunter said tackling poaching, which increases across England and Wales during late autumn following the harvest and as the hours of darkness lengthen, is one of the UK's wildlife crime priorities.
He said: "Poaching is a criminal activity – all poachers are trespassers and analysis by the NWCU over the past two years shows that, given an opportunity, poachers have diversified into thefts, burglaries, assaults and other rural crimes.
Many police forces are developing rural crime strategies where the tackling of all wildlife crime and particularly poaching is a priority. Project Trespass will help in the effort to coordinate intelligence and responses to reports of crime."
Almost half (44%) of all wildlife crime from across the UK reported to the NWCU relates to "poaching intelligence" including the targeting of deer, fish and game.
Det Insp Hunter heads a team of 12 officers, headquartered in Edinburgh, but based all over the UK. He warned poaching of red deer meant not only meat was illegally entering the food chain but also hit the shooting businesses.
Criminals, perhaps deterred from increased security in other areas, he said, regarded wildlife crime as potentially "easy pickings".
"The biggest population of red deer in England is on Exmoor and that stretches down into central Devon and across to the Quantocks," he said earlier this year.
"The price of venison has doubled in the last four to five years, so there's money to be made which attracts criminals."
The Poaching Priority Delivery Group also counts as members the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the National Gamekeepers Organisation, the Food Standards Agency, the Deer Initiative, the Angling Trust, the Environment Agency, the National Farmer's Union, Country Land and Business Association and the Countryside Alliance.