Poaching is still alive and well
PUBLISHED: 00:16 19 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:42 20 February 2013
Leo Hickish, vice-chairman of the Sussex Branch of the Country Land & Business Association, says that the traditional view of the man taking a couple for the pot is well out of date
The term poacher conjures up a local rogue from a bygone era who slips under the gamekeepers nose to bag a bird or two for the familys supper. One could even argue that many were more sinned against that sinning - offenders through the centuries were frequently hanged or transported.
You might be surprised to learn that poaching is very much alive in Sussex today. However, if the passage of time has conferred a harmless neer do well image on the culprits of days gone by, todays poachers are altogether more professional criminals, which is why their activities should not be ignored. Modern poachers are professional, organised criminals, who travel around the country and are usually involved in other types of rural crime, such as theft of diesel, hay, machinery and vehicles from farms.
The link between poaching and other rural or wildlife crime, including the killing of protected species, is partly due to the local knowledge offenders build up and the fact that they operate during the hours of darkness.
Whether lamping rabbits, pursuing deer or even badger baiting, they also cause damage to gates and hedgerows, as they have no qualms about destroying property to reach their quarry.
Make no mistake; poachers can be dangerous individuals who present a threat to property and, if challenged, to people, too. A lot of the time, poaching involves gangs armed with firearms and dogs which are specifically bred for taking down game. They are also ruthless in their efforts to evade arrest or intervention. Sadly it is becoming increasingly common for poachers to use force to intimidate or attack those trying to stop them, including a vicious attack on a gamekeeper in the New Forest.
Higher unemployment rates due to the recession, a surge in the UK's deer population and improved record-keeping have contributed to a considerable rise in reported poaching incidents during the past couple of years, and poaching intensifies in the run up to Christmas and the New Year when there is an increased demand for game.
There are legitimate calls from many quarters to cull deer in Sussex, but poachers have no interest in the condition of the meat which they sell on the black market, nor the safety and humaneness of their methods of killing.
Sussex Police has nearly 80 wildlife crime officers, and takes rural crime seriously. Arrests for poaching are relatively rare, however. In a high profile case just over a year ago, dawn raids by 50 Sussex Police officers across East Sussex uncovered animal carcasses and meat, including deer and wild boar. Police said at the time that they were responding to concerns about highly organised poaching for big profits.
Three men were eventually charged with offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Their weapons of choice, among high powered rifles, had included crossbows. It was a blow against the poachers, but exceptional.
Poaching is on the rise because it is a lucrative crime. It is not easy to police the countryside, and a common scenario is for poachers to be disturbed by farmers, gamekeepers or landowners and then make their escape.
Clearly, however, all incidents should be reported, as otherwise no crime is registered. The British Deer Society runs a campaign called Shine a light on poachingwhich seeks to encourage people to report all incidents of poaching. The aim is that with sufficient weight of reports the police will be required to allocate resources to tackle poachers.
If you see evidence of poaching having taken place often discarded animal remains do report it.
Leo Hickish, a partner at Batcheller Thacker, is vice-chairman of the Sussex Branch of the Country Land & Business Association (www.cla.org.uk)