DORSET Police have launched an operation targeting illegal poachers in West Dorset after a surge in complaints from local farmers.

Officers took to rural roads between Dorchester and Puddletown after reports of illegal poaching in the area increased, with deer poaching the most common complaint from farmers.

The police targeted 4x4 vehicles driving on the country lanes and searched the vehicles, with a number of pieces of poaching equipment including lamps, knives and catapults now being investigated by police.

Police Inspector Steve Marsh of Dorset Police said the first part of the operation had been a success and it would continue over the coming months.

Insp Marsh said: “We carried out a poaching operation concentrating on rural areas and supporting the concerns of the farming community. In particular we are targeting those who poach and take deer.

“More than 35 vehicles were stopped in the operation and drivers were asked to account for their movements.

“Several items suspected of being used in poaching were seized to allow further enquiries to take place.

“We would be very keen to hear from pubs and restaurants who may have been offered venison and other game through unlicenced sources. In many cases the animals are sourced illegally, killed inhumanely and not correctly prepared prior to entering the food chain.

“The operation will be repeated and poachers will be targeted. Many connected with poaching offences are also involved in other forms of rural criminality.

“Members of the public are urged to contact Dorset Police should they see any suspicious activity taking place on land during the hours of darkness.”

Rupert Rees, secretary of the Dorchester National Farmer’s Union branch, said he supported the police operation, as poaching was a huge problem for farmers.

Mr Rees said: “I understand what happens is people cut the barbed fences into farms and then drive across the fields to have a go at poaching.

“This causes a number of problems for farmers because cattle and sheep can escape through the cut fences, and it is the farmer’s responsibility to ensure the livestock remain on the field.

“Poaching also has a huge economic impact on farmers – it scares sheep and cattle, it obviously reduces numbers of deer and the worst case scenario is the cattle get out and cause an accident.

“Poaching is very disruptive to local farmers.

“It is very good news in my mind if this sort of operation happens periodically because word will get out that poachers should not come to Dorchester so it’s brilliant news and I am very supportive of the operation.”