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Armed police have joined forces with wildlife rangers from the Forestry Commission Wales in what has been described as ?the toughest crackdown yet? on deer poachers in South Wales.

The Forestry Commission (FC) Wales says that the aim of Operation Antler, which began last week in the Monmouthshire villages of Goetre and The Bryn, is to tackle both deer poaching and its association with the illegal use of guns.

It is the first time that armed police have been used in the campaign to clamp down on poachers in the South Wales area.

FC Wales forest crime officer Andrew Scourfield, a police sergeant seconded to FC Wales, is leading the operation.

He said: ?The purpose of this high-visibility exercise is to act as a deterrent and send out a strong message to the poachers that their illegal activities will not be tolerated.?

?We receive regular reports of deer poaching from the South Wales farming community and members of the public who are naturally concerned by the lengths to which these people are prepared to go.?

Roadblocks were set up during the operation, and anyone suspected of being involved in poaching or firearms-related offences had their cars searched.

A police helicopter was also used in pursuit of a suspicious 4×4 vehicle.

The crackdown follows several firearms-related incidents linked to deer poaching reported by farmers, deer stalkers and members of the public in recent months.

In one, a fallow buck was found dead with a crossbow bolt through its jaw in nearby Margam Country Park.

Sergeant Scourfield said: ?We are sending out a clear message to would-be poachers that we take this seriously and have the capability of executing high profile operations.?

?The overall response from the community was very positive and, from an operational perspective, this approach proved successful and will be used again in deer poaching operations in the future.?