The force has relaunched its rural crime initiative in response to escalating incidences of game bird theft in the county.

The scheme was first devised in 2007 after more than £60,000-worth of pheasant poults, partridge chicks and feeding equipment were reported stolen from across the county, and has been relaunched in response to a recent upsurge in the theft of poults in Norfolk.

Wildlife crime officer PC Jason Pegden is one of three dedicated officers who work with keepers and shooters to increase awareness of the problem and to encourage those affected to report suspicious behaviour.

He said Norfolk Police has found that many crimes are not being reported: ?Though we have been successful in reducing the number of thefts, we discovered at recent game fairs that keepers do not always report crime as some are under the illusion that we cannot do anything to help. We need substantial evidence in order to charge offenders, otherwise the Crown Prosecution Service will not run a case.?

BASC eastern regional director William Heal said that the concentration of six- to eight-week-old birds kept in rearing pens presented thieves with a lucrative target: ?If anybody steals them at that stage they can immediately sell them on. If the birds are younger the thieves would have to look after them. At six to eight weeks pheasants and partridges can be worth between £2.50 and £3.50 each. This might not sound like a lot, but if you have 1,000 pheasants it is a significant loss. There were fewer thefts last year, which could be because there was a greater awareness of the problem.?

A spokesman for the National Gamekeepers? Organisation in Norfolk said: ?There have been some reports of poult theft, so we welcome the revival of this police initiative. Norfolk Police are generally very good on rural crime and work closely with the gamekeepers. They seem to have a better understanding of everything from night shooting to the impact of poaching and raves. Other forces would do well to follow their example.?

Joe Reed from Norwich has been a part-time gamekeeper for 30 years.

He told Shooting Times magazine that the county?s rural crime levels have never been so high. ?In my area, young poults that have been put to wood are being targeted. Keepers in the local area are rallying together in a bid to stamp out theft. I am double-checking locks and being extra vigilant about items that can be easily stolen,? he said.

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