HUNDREDS of wildlife watchers are being recruited by police as the net closes on poachers targeting the region.

Guidelines have been issued to birdwatchers visiting the Tees estuary area -with advice not to challenge poachers, particularly if firearms are involved, but to call 999.

PC Rob King, the wildlife crime co-ordinator with Cleveland Police, said: "We do not want anyone approaching these individuals for their own safety. We do not know what they are carrying.

"It is far better to observe from a safe distance and record information and pass it on. We do not want anyone taking risks.''

The guidelines have been agreed between police and Teesmouth Bird Club, and the format in which police want information passed to them.

Explaining the move, PC King said: "Basically, it is because of the numbers of members Teesmouth Bird Club has got; it gives us extra eyes and ears, a good way of collecting intelligence.

"The more information we get, we can direct patrols to areas of concern. It is bringing more people on board; something like Neighbourhood Watch."

The poachers, who are often involved in other criminal activities, hunt deer and hares over the north Tees marshes, Wynyard, near Billingham, and Scaling Dam, on the Teesside-North Yorkshire border.

Bird club chairman Ted Parker said: "It is quite a widespread problem, and I have personally come across deer carcasses, which is quite distressing.

"It is widespread and needs stamping out, and the only way to do that is to report it to the police for them to take appropriate action.

"Quite often I have had phone calls from members saying they have seen incidents. They have seen something, but they do not know whether to phone the main police switchboard or what sort of crime to report.

"Sometimes there are suspicious acts taking place with no apparent crime; others clearly a crime being committed.

"There needed to be formal guidelines on how members should report incidents."