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I was appointed as the first-ever poaching priority officer for England and Wales on 10 September. I will be acting as the principal point of contact in co-ordinating investigations into poaching crimes across English and Welsh police forces as part of the Government funded National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) based in Scotland.

The new position is being funded by the Environment Agency, BASC and the Deer Initiative through the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife (PAW) coalition.

The number of poaching incidents being reported has risen significantly in recent times. For example, the NWCU witnessed a 79 per cent increase in reports of hare poaching in the past year. There has also been a rise in reports of deer poaching.

There is already a network of wildlife crime officers spread throughout the 43 police forces in England and Wales, which is responsible for investigating wildlife and environmental crime. The challenge now is for the NWCU and the national police forces to work in partnership to share knowledge and advice on approaches to tackling poaching and other wildlife crime.

As poaching priority officer, my main objectives are to:

– Offer advice and guidance to enforcement agencies with regard to poaching incidents. This could include assessment of initial evidence and complaints, advice on appropriate legislation and about the points of law required to bring a case to court.

– Assist in identifying and locating appropriate expert witnesses.

– Advise on scenes of crime and forensic examinations.

– Provide a specialist point of contact for all enforcement officers in England and Wales.

– Maintain a network of contacts within law enforcement agencies who will aim to reduce levels of poaching offences at a national and regional level.

– Raise awareness of poaching crimes among the general public.

Deer poaching incidents increase every year at this time, peaking in the weeks before Christmas. This is because a fair proportion of the poached venison is traded illegally via the “back door” of a small number of dubious pubs, butchers and restaurants to satisfy the Christmas market. What really concerns me is the cruelty of the methods used by poachers, the associated criminality and the lack of standards in terms of game meat handling.

In addition, estates lose valuable stalking fees and revenue if they suffer poaching. Poachers target deer indiscriminately and, as an example, will have no respect for the respective females of the species with dependent or suckling young.

Associated serious issues are threats to or intimidation of farmers and keepers, and damage to signs, gates, fences and crops.

We would urge all legitimate purchasers of venison to ask for the source of the meat they are buying. Lawful gamedealers and butchers will be only too proud to boast of the quality of legitimately sourced venison.

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Have your say: if you have a view on a current news topic, send it, in no more than 500 words, to selena_masson@ipcmedia.com.

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