North Yorkshire landowner claims that poachers are running 'protection rackets' targeting farmers - and land agent says he was attacked

Some criminals targeting the countryside are becoming “unchallengeable” and operate protection racket-style operations on farmland, leading residents to move away from rural areas, it has been claimed.

North Yorkshire farmland

Meetings of leading police figures and councillors in North Yorkshire have heard poaching incidents such as lamping and hare coursing now accounted for almost as many offences in rural areas as every other crime.

Commissioner Philip Allott told a meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s Thirsk and Malton constituency committee that poachers from West Yorkshire and the North-East had become “a real issue” for the force.

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The meeting heard land agent and councillor Bob Baker describe how poachers were leaving rural communities traumatised.

Sowerby division member Coun Baker said he had “been on the receiving end of a beating by a gang of poachers I tried to apprehend while waiting for the police to get there”.

He said: “It’s a massive problem and they are getting really vicious.”

Coun Baker told the committee one large landowner had told him an approach that quite often worked was to let “one gang of men look after your land, and that keeps the others away”, to avert incidents such as barn fires.

However, he told members lower level poachers “looking after” land had been powerless to prevent gang leaders from the North-East turning up on farmland with £50,000 in suitcases as they were “unchallengeable”.

PCSO Andy Birkinshaw, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force, said he didn’t agree with the word ‘unchallengable’, but added the “silly season” for poaching in the county was under way.

He said: “We will always go and deal with poachers to our best capability, but it is absolutely rife out there. It’s not just about two people with cases with £50,000 they are actually making a lot of money through betting online these days.”

After the meeting Coun Baker said he believed the force was doing a good job tackling poachers, but needed to take the issue “even more seriously”.

The claims come just days after a North Yorkshire Police public accountability meeting hosted by Mr Allott was told the year to May saw 1,351 poaching incidents recorded across the county, and the most affected areas most included Hambleton, Ryedale and York and Selby.

The meeting heard the commissioner’s deputy chief executive state there was growing evidence that residents were moving out of rural areas due to poaching and the intimidation which often went with it.

However, over the past year just 29 people have been reported for poaching and are awaiting court proceedings.

Chief Inspector Alex Butterfield said while the force awaited legislative changes to make tackling hare coursing easier the force was using antisocial behaviour laws and launching a fresh strategy to disupt the activities of “high harm offenders”.

He said some 30 people had so far been issed with crime prevention warnings, which could lead to criminal behaviour orders being issued. To counter poachers moving between farms, police have started Whatsapp watch groups, which now have some 2,000 members and to speed up police responses to poaching force control room staff are being trained about the gravity of such offences.

Chf Insp Butterfield said: “The impact of poaching, not only from a wildlife crime perspective, but on rural communities cannot be underestimated.”