Forest Watch initiative targets illegal deer poaching
South Wales Police and the Forestry Commission are joining forces to tackle illegal deer poaching in the South Wales countryside.
They will also work with local authorities to target poachers who tour pubs and restaurants in the run-up to Christmas trying to sell on the venison.
Operation Antler forms part of the Forest Watch initiative, which was launched earlier this year to raise awareness and encourage reporting of crime in the countryside.
PC Andrew Scourfield, a South Wales Police officer seconded to Forestry Commission Wales, said: “The Forestry Commission’s estate of Neath and Port Talbot and the forested areas to the west of Maesteg are resident to a wild Fallow Deer herd.
“It is unsure exactly how many deer populate these areas, but it is estimated to be hundreds, if not more.
“Over the years poachers have targeted these areas on a regular basis, particularly in the run up to Christmas where some will sell the venison to local pubs and food outlets. In some areas of the country poachers are making large financial gain from this illegal activity.”
The public’s perception of deer poaching may be a romantic image of an individual at night with a rifle in order to ‘bag one for the pot’. Unfortunately the reality is somewhat different.
Today’s poacher is likely to be more sophisticated and involved in other areas of crime such as drug dealing, burglary, theft or fraud. They will be in possession of 4x4 vehicles, high-powered rifles and hunting dogs such as Lurchers.
Forestry Commission area manager Kay Williams added: “Poachers will use whatever means it takes to unlawfully enter through Forestry Commission security barriers. Angle grinders, welding equipment and even JCBs have been used in the past.
“The Forestry Commission in South Wales are creating more integrated forests and promoting areas such as the Afan Forest Park and we have witnessed the numbers of legitimate forest users and workers increase.
“Events such as organised night time nature walks and mountain bike rides are increasing in areas where deer are resident and poaching is evident.”
By raising the awareness of the issue through the successful Forest Watch scheme and visiting local farms and rural dwellings there has already been a steady increase in reports of deer poaching. Reports of rifle shots, night time vehicle movement in the forest and the discarded remains of deer entrails, legs and heads are all signs of deer poaching.
There are also concerns over the cruelty to the deer as the poachers are unlikely to be trained or experienced stalkers and are unaware “stalking rules”, such as when to take a shot or what part of the body to shoot so that a clean kill is assured.
For example, if a deer is shot in the mouth it is likely to starve to death, if a doe is shot before her fawn then the fawn will also starve without its mother. Some poachers have been known to use inappropriate and unlawful weapons such as crossbows and shot guns, increasing the risk of injury and suffering to these animals.
As well as the animal cruelty aspect, the operation will also focus on food hygiene with local authority environmental health officers visiting and carrying out leaflet drops to pubs, restaurants and hotels raising the awareness of the dangers and legal consequences of purchasing or selling venison obtained from unlawful sources.
Steve Adie, principal trading standards officer for Neath Port Talbot Council said: “Poachers have been known to tour local pubs and restaurants looking for a market for their venison, particularly in the run up to Christmas.
“If the meat is not properly hung then toxins build up, and if this is put in the food chain then the meat is tainted which could cause serious harm to public health.”
Mike Thomas, Trading Standards Officer of Bridgend Council added: “All deer lawfully culled by trained stalkers will be examined by a qualified person for disease prior to entering the food chain for human consumption.
“Deer taken by poachers will not, again increasing the risk to public health.”
PC Scourfield said the operation would have four main elements – education, intelligence, prevention and enforcement.
“We aim to raise the public’s awareness of deer poaching to increase the flow of information to ourselves and highlight the dangers of purchasing venison from unscrupulous sources,” he added.
“South Wales Police has an array of specialist units which will form the enforcement aspect of the operation to investigate and prosecute those involved in illegal deer poaching.”
If you have any information regarding deer poaching, poachers or the unlawful sale of venison of you can contact PC Scourfield in confidence or Crime Stoppers below:
PC Andrew Scourfield
0800 555 111