Warning as poachers set sights on selling black market meat

RURAL crime experts have warned of a worrying increase in poaching across the county as rising commodity prices have led to criminals targeting an ever increasing number of animals and selling the meat on the black market.

With crops now cut and the nights drawing in, North Yorkshire Police is stepping up efforts across the county to combat the poachers, who are increasingly believed to have links to organised criminal gangs responsible for a rise in raids on North Yorkshire farms over the past few months to steal expensive agricultural machinery.

Police say the rising price of meat means many criminals are now turning to poaching animals such as deer, before selling them in pubs and other unlicensed premises.

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Pc Sarah Ward, wildlife officer for Selby, where the hugely-successful Operation Jumbo was launched sparking a surge in arrests and dramatic reduction in cases of poaching, said: “Their sport is now starting to make them some money.

“Before, a lot of people were just after rabbits or foxes but now they are after deer.

“Because people will buy meat on the black market, criminals are making money out of it.

“It has been a sport or a hobby but now people are looking at it as a way of raising cash.

“Increasing rural crime is a big worry for people at the moment.

“These poachers are causing damage to wildlife, crops and they are also going on to farms and seeing tractors and metal – there is a link between the two.

“We have found that by stopping vehicles and being positive on our patrols we are also slowing down rural crime overall as well.

“It is increasing but we are going to keep this contained.”

Pc Ward said key to the force’s efforts to crackdown on poachers is its ever expanding Rural Watch scheme and claims relationships with farmers are now as good as they have ever been.

As police funding cuts continue to bite, rural crime officers say establishing this vast network of contacts across the North Yorkshire countryside to ensure the poachers continue to be snared is vitally important.

A number of police rural crime operations are currently in force across the county.

Operation Wagtail was launched earlier this year, to focus on gangs of criminals travelling into North Yorkshire from other parts of the country and targeting rural communities across Hambleton and Richmondshire.

Meanwhile, Operation Jumbo, which was launched in 2010 and in its first few weeks led to officers conducting 114 searches and stopping 331 vehicles resulting in 25 arrests and 12 vehicles and dogs seized, remains in place. This year it has been rolled out to other rural parts of the county including the countryside around Harrogate, where recent problems with a re-emergence of sheep rustling have been reported.

PC John Wilbor, of Richmond Safer Neighbourhood Team, said: “We want to send out a strong message to criminals coming to Richmondshire that they are not welcome by the police or local landowners.

“I also hope that residents in rural communities are encouraged that poachers are being arrested and being dealt with in the courts.

“People in rural communities are determined that criminals will not win and the support they give to the police by calling in suspicious incidents and joining us on Rural Watch patrols is vital to the fight against rural crime.”

Officers have also urged farmers to let them know when they will be out working on fields at night to eliminate any suspicion.

The launch of Operation Jumbo followed in the wake of stinging criticism of North Yorkshire Police by The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, which accused the force of neglecting rural crime across a huge area.

Anyone who would like to join Rural Watch or wants to report any suspicious activity in their area is urged to contact North Yorkshire Police on 08456060247.