Liam Bell suggests ways you can stop poachers, such as putting equipment out of sight, locking gates, recording as much information as possible and reporting everything to the police


Having your birds shot out of the trees when they’re roosting is every keeper’s nightmare. The disturbance it causes in a wood and the unsettling effect it has on the remaining birds for weeks afterwards are huge. Admittedly, it happens a lot less now than it did 30 years ago when the price of dead birds was a lot higher, but there are still parts of the country where it is a real problem. We still need to do all we can to stop poachers.

As the price of pheasants has dropped, the very same people have now turned their attention to deer and the theft of equipment and machinery. Sadly, we’ll never stop poachers altogether — there will always be poachers, just as there will always be shoplifters, muggers and thieves.

Your first line of defence in the fight to stop poaching should be limiting access — not easy if you are next to a main road or on open ground with no hedges, but it can be done. All of us, myself included, have gates and barriers that could be chained and locked but aren’t because it takes too much time
or the lock has broken or you just keep forgetting. Locked gates paint a picture: if a place looks secure and people nosing about can see that someone is paying attention to security, it will help put them off. A friend who lives down south has gone a step further and had ditches dug at the side of a busy road to stop people driving on to the fields and coursing the hares. He still has trouble, but it occurs a lot less now that they actually have to get out of their vehicles to get on the ground.

Release pens need to be sited away from, and out of sight of, roads if possible. People see pens and word soon gets about. The same goes for dead birds and deer that have been knocked over and dragged to the verge. Move them as soon as you get a chance, as they will only attract unwanted attention. Feeders, drinkers, fence units and pen sections are all potential targets for thieves as well. If they are out of sight, or at the very least painted a colour that will blend in, it will reduce the chances of their being stolen. The sad part, of course, is that it is people with shoots of their own who are buying what gets stolen.

If you think you are getting poached or find that equipment is going missing, keep a log of everything that happens, everything that disappears and every time something suspicious happens. This will help you plan how to stop poachers and aid the prosecution of those responsible when they are eventually caught.

We have a Poacher Watch group locally, which meets at a police station up the road to share information. The police are members of the group, and will prosecute those they catch if there is enough evidence.

lock gate

Padlocking all gates and barriers sends a message to the poachers that security is being taken seriously

Evidence and reporting are key. Log every incident and ask for a crime number. The more crimes you log, the more seriously they will take it. Not reporting things because you don’t think anything will happen or because you don’t think anyone will be bothered is playing into the hands of those who are stealing your stuff, taking your pheasants or shooting your deer. The police need to know.

Stay in the picture
Local knowledge is a useful tool to help you stop poachers. Every shoot has its “nosey neighbour” who sees and hears everything. Our farm tenants let me know if they are out rabbiting so that, if someone does ring up when they see a lamp or hear a shot, I know if there is anyone out. If there isn’t, we go and have a look. Better to have lots of calls than to be asked a couple of days later if it was you who was out at 1am on such-and-such field with a lamp when it wasn’t!

Get out and about as much as you can yourself too, whether it is foxing, driving round the boundaries or parking up on the side of the main road for an hour late at night. Poachers soon suss which vehicles belong to a keeper and, if they see you are about, word will soon get round.

Years ago we used to put alarm mines across rides and gateways at night. They were spring-loaded and held a blank cartridge. If the wire was tripped, a clip which held the spring-mounted trigger was pulled out and the trigger detonated the blank. You didn’t always hear the shot itself but you would see in the morning if any had gone off, and I’m sure it made the poachers feel very uneasy.

The modern equivalent of the alarm gun is the trail camera. Trail cams have motion sensors and will either film or take pictures of whatever sets it off. They are ideal for confirming poaching activity or the theft of equipment. The pictures are good quality and could be used as evidence in a prosecution.

If you are going to use them, be sure not to buy the ones with the little red LED lights. The red light is easily spotted and there is every chance the camera itself will get stolen or thrown in the nearest lake.

Another thing you can do to stop poachers is plan an attack on your own birds or deer. Think how you’d get on to the place, where you’d park your car or get dropped off or which fields would be easiest to lamp without getting spotted. If you can identify an easy route in, there is every chance someone else can as well.

Top tips to stop poachers:

  • Site pens and place hoppers out of sight
  • Lock gates and barriers
  • Gather information and keep a diary of everything suspicious
  • If something looks suspicious it probably is
  • Be seen
  • Share information with other keepers
  • Join a farm watch/poacher watch scheme
  • Consider purchasing a trail camera
  • Report all incidents to the police
  • Always support a prosecution