‘We were living a hell’ – Leeds Farm Watch member on poachers, quad bikers and burglars

Members of Leeds District Wildlife and Rural Crime Team, which launched in October 2018. Picture: Tony Johnson.
Members of Leeds District Wildlife and Rural Crime Team, which launched in October 2018. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Sitting at the kitchen table of a farmhouse in Leeds, one Farm Watch member is happy to talk about the changes brought about as a result of having dedicated wildlife and rural crime officers working across the district.

What he is unwilling to do is let us publish his name or the location of his farm.

Read more: New Leeds policing team to tackle animal cruelty, poaching and farm burglaries

He knows others who have confronted poachers or would-be thieves, only to see their barns burned down in revenge.

“Before all this started, we were living a hell basically,” he said. “Not only did we have poachers coming in with dogs, we had them in four-wheel drives. We used to ring the police, get through to the control room, and they wouldn’t understand how serious the situation is. We’d have to go down the field and try to stop it.”

A nearby farm had issues with burglars regularly turning up at night to steal diesel.

“He put a big lock on the [storage tank], the burglar smashed it and left gallons of diesel running down the yard,” the farmer said. “We had another incident on a neighbouring farm with some individuals known to police. It didn’t get dealt with properly at the time.

“Some of us made complaints and that’s when PC Andy Katkowski got involved. We had a sit down and had a talk about what we’d like to see happen.

“They’ve taken everything on board. Even the call handling has been changed so now, especially at harvest, we do get a certain amount of priority because everybody knows where we’re coming from.

Read more: Suspected poachers target historic Leeds Temple Newsam estate

“I had started collating information of what was happening in the area. It would be every night and there would be teams of poachers out every night.

“Because of what Andy’s done and certain other people, it’s transformed our lives. The individuals who are doing this sort of thing, it’s public knowledge to them that if they do come into this area, they’re not going to get a slap on the wrist, they’re going to be prosecuted.”

The farm had also been having problems with five or six people on quad bikes trespassing and causing damage.

“We could never catch them,” the farmer said. “There were extensive inquiries made by Andy and a few others feeding information back, and we actually found out where they lived.

“Andy found out they were registered as being agricultural vehicles so there was no tax, no MOT. He got in touch with the insurance companies and had it revoked. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Read more: West Yorkshire sees dramatic rise in cost of rural crime

“It had got to the point where people wouldn’t report anything because nothing was going to be done about it. Now everybody tends to report everything because they know if it goes down statistically, we can and do get more help.”