With the autumn deer season in full swing police are stepping up patrols to crack down on poaching in North Devon this year.

Checking the banks of a local river for any suspicious activity.Checking the banks of a local river for any suspicious activity.

Extra night time patrols are being carried out by specialist officers in some of the region’s more remote areas to deter poachers and prevent other forms of rural crime such as burglary.

Last autumn the Gazette reported how the grisly discovery of 11 severed stag heads in a South Molton lay-by brought the problem of poaching, often by organised gangs, sharply into focus.

This week, reporter Tony Gussin joined PC Martin Beck and Sergeant Paul Freestone of the Wildlife Crime Group plus Paul Carter, Environment Agency fisheries officer, for one of their after dark forays.

So far into the red deer rutting season, the approach is paying off, with fewer reports of poaching activities as police make their presence felt across the area.

Trout in a North Devon river at night.Trout in a North Devon river at night.

As well as enforcement, officers have been speaking to known deer stalkers to ensure they are enjoying their pastime safely and understand the law.

There have been public meetings and close working with others such as the EA, Exmoor National Park, National Trust and Crown Estates.

“I think we are having an effect, because we’re getting fewer reports from the public about poaching and hopefully at the same time we’re reassuring them that we’re taking rural crime seriously by responding to their concerns,” said PC Beck.

“We are starting to understand the who, how and why of poaching activities, and as we go into new seasons the culprits are going to have to be a lot luckier in the future.”

Officers use a thermal imaging camera to spot suspects hiding in the undergrowth.Officers use a thermal imaging camera to spot suspects hiding in the undergrowth.

It is not illegal to shoot deer, with permission from the landowner and in season, but firearms must be licensed and it is illegal to shoot at night.

If anyone sees anything suspicious, they should contact the police as soon as possible – and dial 999 if it is happening right then.

Information can also be reported anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or for fisheries incidents, call the Environment Agency freephone on 0800 807060.