Severed stags’ heads dumped at roadside

Are the red deer stags of Exmoor under threat from poachers?

Are the red deer stags of Exmoor under threat from poachers? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Grisly discovery at South Molton lay-by.

A majestic red deer stag.

A majestic red deer stag. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

THE grisly discovery of 11 stag heads at South Molton has triggered fears illegal poaching is spiralling out of control in the area.

Police have confirmed the find was made at the lay-by in Folly Lane during the weekend of September 28-29.

Officers were alerted by a member of the public who reported a strong smell. They found the badly decomposed red deer heads in plastic bags and riddled with maggots.

The North Devon Gazette understands that they had been shorn of their antlers.


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There are unconfirmed reports of similar incidents and the discovery of wounded deer shot by illegal or irresponsible hunters.

With the rutting season underway, Exmoor’s red deer stags are now crowned in all their glory - antlers of 12 points or more can sell for several hundred pounds.

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Sergeant Dave Knight, part of the force Wildlife Crime Group, said in all likelihood it was the work of poachers: “We have no lines of inquiry regarding this, but we are having problems with poaching of deer in North Devon at the moment.

“There are other methods being used too – we have had reports of people using dogs to bring down deer.

“Peoples’ idea of poaching seems to be the guy hunting for his family, but that’s long gone – it is big business now.”

Local police have linked in with a new campaign to tackle poaching called Project Trespass, which aims to co-ordinate action across the country.

“We are now into pre-Christmas prime poaching time, although it has been going on probably most of the year,” said PC Martin Beck, wildlife crime officer who is based at Lynton.

“We get regular information from people who suspect they have poaching taking place on their land.

“I cover Brendon to Parracombe, Trentishoe, Heddon Valley and down to Arlington and Loxhore – all areas where we have received intelligence about it going on.

“It’s quite far reaching, people feel quite helpless because there are people with weapons on their land, but analysts have also proved the link between poaching and crimes such as burglary, theft or handling drugs.

“Then there is the firearms safety issue and people shooting at night, which inherently dangerous.”

There are public meetings at Lynton Town Hall on Thursday of next week (November 7) and at Shirwell Village Hall on Friday, November 22. Both begin at 7.30pm and are aimed primarily at concerned farmers or landowners.

It is not illegal to shoot deer, with permission from the landowner and the season on red deer stags is August to April (November to March for hinds) but firearms must be licensed and it is illegal to shoot at night.

But PC Beck said the police efforts were not aimed at law-abiding hunters: “We have a huge field sport and hunting tradition on Exmoor which is worth millions,” he said.

“We are trying to encourage good sport and tourism for the area, but we want to stamp down on illegal practices.”

Sgt Knight appealed for anyone with information about this or any poaching incident, to contact the police as soon as possible.

“We have quite a few reports of suspected poaching, but people tend to wait until the following day before telling us, so we’re asking them to call us straight away if they see anything, via 999 if it’s actually happening,” he said.

If anyone has any information regarding the 11 stag heads found in the Folly Lane lay-by or any other poaching incident, contact Sgt Dave Knight or PC Martin Beck by dialling 101.

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