POLICE from three forces are cracking down on criminals trespassing on farmland in the region.

Darlington-based rural crimewatch group, Countryside Crime Watch (CCW), is concerned about the number of poachers - known as lampers - hunting rabbits at night.

CCW already works with Durham Police and is now strengthening its links with neighbouring Cleveland and North Yorkshire forces to combat a range of crimes, including lamping, theft and burglary.

Brian Pavey, the Darlington gamekeeper who is the co-ordinator of CCW, many of whose members are farmers, said there had been several lamping incidents on farmland to the north of Darlington in recent weeks.

He said: "Trespassing like this is a concern to our members and we are talking to the police about how we address it. We believe it is important that people realise that farmers are not on their own."

Darlington farmer Alan Barker said: "Lamping is the biggest thing.

"I'm dead against it. They call it sport, but there is no sport whatsoever in it."

The police forces, whose representatives met at a farm near Darlington, on Friday, are also targeting other offences.

PC Dave Sanders, of Cleveland Police, said: "The North-East has always had a problem with wildlife crime and animal cruelty and the links to other crimes are always there. I don't know of a poacher who isn't up to something else."

Inspector Sue Collingwood, of Darlington police, said: "It is great to have all the forces working together because criminals don't observe boundaries and we need to be sharing information and working together."

PC Chris Horner, of Darlington police, said: "When it comes to crimes such as lamping and poaching, a lot of people in the towns don't really know that it goes with things like burglary and criminal damage.

"This initiative is a great opportunity to bring these people in and arrest them."

Acting Sergeant Helen Donaldson, of the North Yorkshire force, said: "The message is that nowhere is a soft option. If you do an illegal activity in one area, don't bother moving to another because we'll be waiting for you.