POLICE are warning poachers to stay out of North Yorkshire, as the force ramps up a new anti-poaching operation.

Poachers normally travel in groups of up to four people, with dogs, using 4x4 vehicles.

They typically hunt brown hare or deer and in addition to being a wildlife crime, their illegal activity can cause extensive damage to crops, fields and fences – and leave victims in fear of violence and retaliation.

About 80 per cent of poaching incidents in North Yorkshire take place between September and February, typically on open farmland after crops have been harvested.

Hambleton is the worst hit district, with 212 poaching incidents between April 2019 and March 2020 compared to 73 in Richmondshire and 70 in Harrogate during the same period.

Many offenders travel into North Yorkshire from elsewhere in the region to commit their offences.

In a new operation – Operation Figaro – North Yorkshire Police will be robustly targeting poachers to put a stop to their illegal activity.

This year, a list of people suspected of being involved in poaching in the past will get a letter from North Yorkshire Police, advising them not to commit further offences in the county.

The Northern Echo:

Damage caused to farmland by poachers

Some of these may be hand-delivered, to make sure the message hits home.

Mobile Rural Watch schemes, and groups of rural residents sharing information via WhatsApp groups, cover more than 90 per cent of North Yorkshire’s rural communities, and can act as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the police, reporting suspicious activity that could be linked to poaching.

Operation Figaro runs alongside Operation Galileo, a national campaign bringing together forces particularly affected by poaching.

Inspector Matt Hagen, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: "Poachers often have no regard for farmers and landowners, causing thousands of pounds of damage to crops.

"Victims are often intimidated or even threatened with violence if they challenge offenders, leaving them feeling vulnerable to further crimes, particularly in isolated areas."

Insp Hagen added: “On top of that, evidence suggests that poaching offenders are also involved in other aspects of criminality – including the organised theft of quad bikes and farm machinery."