Norfolk police is warning wildfowlers in England and Wales to watch out for people shooting on club land without proper authorisation.
Anecdotal evidence from local wildfowlers and members of the public has backed up police reports of an increase in armed trespass.
?We have been experiencing problems along the North Norfolk coast ? people are turning up and wildfowling on club land without being a member or having been invited by a club,? said Norfolk police?s wildlife crime officer PC Jason Pegden, who is also a member of Blakeney & District Wildfowlers? Association (BDWA).
?I am regularly informed that people have been shooting where they should not be and I?m sure it goes on across the country. It is important to highlight the problem to all wildfowlers so that they know what to do if they are confronted with an illegal shooter.?
According to PC Pegden, the illegal shooters are either ignorant of the law or simply have a complete disregard for the club covering that land: ?From a legal point of view, wildfowling without authorisation is deemed as trespassing with a firearm and is arrestable under Section 20 of the 1968 Firearms Act. My advice to law-abiding wildfowlers is to carry your club membership card and your shotgun certificates with you so this can be produced if you are stopped.?
Derek Dewson has been wildfowling for 11 years with the BDWA. He said unlawful shooters in the county are becoming more common.
?We regularly spot people trespassing on our marsh, shooting indiscriminately at wildfowl. One of the problems is that it is very difficult to police the foreshore and the marsh. Another problem is that people wrongly interpret Commoner?s Rights. They think that if their relative has the right to shoot the land then that automatically grants them the right, too.?
As a result, Mr Dewson said the club was planning to put up more signs to inform the public about shooting.
Alan Roberts is an investigative support officer at the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU). He said: ?So far as unauthorised people wandering around with shotguns is concerned, it is clearly a problem. Though it is difficult for police to patrol the remote shorelines where wildfowling takes place, we would encourage members of clubs to report incidents in as much detail as possible. Vehicle registration numbers are important and detailed descriptions of suspects help incidents to be followed up.?
Mr Roberts pointed out trespassers are unlikely to follow proper wildfowling protocol: ?There are also incidental problems involved, as it is doubtful that the trespassers will use lead-free shot.?
Tim Bonner is the head of media at the Countryside Alliance and a member of Blackwater Wildfowlers Association in Essex. He said all wildfowling clubs have a responsibility to clamp down on trespassers: ?Wildfowling clubs are the guardians of the foreshore in England and Wales, and are best placed to help the police tackle illegal shooting and armed trespass. There is no excuse for shooting without permission. The law is absolutely clear ? and fowling is affordable and accessible as it is anyway.?