A TOWN police team is winning the fight against countryside crime in its outlying areas but insists the battle goes on.

Officers in Ferryhill have seen a reduction in the number of incidents of wildlife crime such as poaching in the last year.

But PCSO Craig Hilton, who covers Chilton, Windlestone and Rushyford, aims to stamp out poaching, destruction of badger setts, unauthorised hunting and trespassing.

Working with colleagues in the Durham Dales, he plans mini operations based on the Durham force’s Farmwatch initiative.

He said: “Once hotspots and key dates and times are identified we will get out there with the assistance of locals, to detect and discourage illegal activities.”

There has been a Farmwatch scheme, which sees farmers and police officers work together to tackle rural crime, in the Ferryhill area since 2008.

And for the last 12 months, the neighbourhood team has also been supported by a network of volunteer rangers.

The deer watch group was set up to monitor poaching hotspots following a series of incidents, including the slaughter of two deer, at the Ferryhill Carrs nature reserve.

A founder member said: “We’ve been working hand and hand with the police, Farmwatch and Neighbourhood Watch to get the message out there that people are watching and protecting our countryside and wildlife.

“Our small group and people we meet like dog walkers are definitely being more vigilant and calling the police on 101.

“We know some of our reports have helped identify suspected poachers, some caught in the act and others have been warned that they face prosecution.”

PCSO Hilton said: “We always encourage people to call us, they are our eyes and ears.

“Living and walking in the area, they can see more than us and know what is normal.

“The group helps raise awareness and has led to an increase in reports of suspicious activity, sometimes they are false alarms but it is good they are being reported so we can investigate.

“It is definitely helping as a deterrent, there has been a drop in incidents but we are always keeping a look out.”