Lynton meeting hears how deer poachers can be tackled if landowners, police and organisations pull together.

WORRIED Exmoor residents packed into Lynton Town Hall last night (Thursday) for a police meeting called to tackle deer poaching.

Farmers, landowners and interested parties gathered for the launch of Project Trespass in the region, the first co-ordinated effort to tackle a problem that appears to be spiralling out of control.

There is deep concern across the moor at the scale of the problem, with far fewer stags seen this rutting season, tales of wounded deer, illegal traps, firearms and hunting with dogs, not to mention the grisly discovery of 11 stag heads in a South Molton lay-by, as revealed by the Gazette.

Last night’s meeting was the first of two, with another scheduled for Shirwell Village Hall on Friday, November 22.

Red Deer Stag with full antlersRed Deer Stag with full antlers

The key message was that people needed to work together, share information and inform police as soon as they see or suspect poaching is taking place on their land.

“You are our eyes and ears, if you see poaching or any crime, you need to contact the police immediately by calling 999,” PC Martin Beck, wildlife crime officer told the audience.

“If you have people on your land trespassing at night, that’s inherently dangerous. I know people are out there using crossbows, the wrong firearms, snares and traps, all methods which are not legal.

“People have said to me that at some point someone is going to get shot, so we need to wake up and start sharing information.”

As well as the dangers, he said poaching was big business, with links to other crimes such as theft and drug dealing.

The ‘black market’ was worth an estimated £5million, with meat sold illegally breaking food and hygiene laws.

Project Trespass has been launched in England and Wales by the National Wildlife Crime Unit in partnership with the Deer Initiative and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC).

Several speakers

PC Beck was followed by speakers John Showers of the DI, James Green from the BASC and local vet Peter Green.

The meeting heard how although theoretically possible to shoot deer at night with a license, only two or three had been issued in the South West in the past decade.

James Green said the field sports industry in the South West was worth some £260million per year, bringing jobs and income to region.

Dr Green said although deer numbers needed to be controlled, it should be with a responsible management plan and not by the indiscriminate taking of the best stags for trophies and meat.

Deer mauled

After the meeting, the Gazette spoke to Julian Gurney, National Trust head ranger for Devon Exmoor, who said poaching wasn’t simply a wildlife crime, but was against anyone who enjoyed the countryside: “The majority of those at the meeting were really concerned about the amount of deer being taken by poachers and worried about the health and future of the Exmoor deer herds,” he said.

“One of my rangers had to dispatch an injured deer earlier this year that had obviously been attacked by a dog - its throat was mauled and its windpipe was showing.

“Those of us who live on the moor know that there are far fewer stags around this year. I work in the Heddon Valley and would expect to hear stags on a daily basis in the rutting season, but I have heard one this year.”

For more in formation and advice on poaching, contact PC Martin Beck or Sergeant Dave Knight by dialling 101.