Wildlife campaigners insist that a PSNI operation to tackle wild deer poaching is worthwhile, even though there have been no arrests since the initiative was launched three years ago.
Operation Wild Deer is a scheme established by the PSNI in August 2013 in Cookstown in Davagh Forest which aims to combat deer poaching – an offence under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985.
The initiative aims to combat poaching by encouraging people to report anything of note to local police, enhancing training to local officers and increasing patrols in areas where deer poaching takes place.
But in response to a Freedom of Information request, the PSNI revealed that no arrests have been made since the introduction of Operation Wild Deer.
Martin Mallone, from the British Deer Society, said that amongst the problems associated with poaching are potential food safety concerns.
“If a restaurant is buying venison from someone who just shows up at their door, there is a good chance it has been lying in the back of a van for whatever length of time, not at the correct temperatures,” he said.
Mr Mallone stressed that while there have been no arrests since the introduction of the PSNI operation, it was important to make it more difficult for poachers to operate by having in place a system which makes it easier for locals to spot and report any suspicious activity.
PSNI wildlife liaison officer Emma Meredith said: “Although no arrests have been made at this time, Operation Wild Deer is a partnership with the aim to be a preventative measure to raise the profile of deer poaching and to encourage people to report deer poaching to PSNI.”
Mr Mallone agreed, pointing to the difficulty faced by officers trying to apprehend elusive poachers. “The reality is that these are isolated, forested areas and that the deer poaching usually takes place at night. If you’re away up a back road somewhere up the back of Davagh Forest outside Cookstown, there aren’t too many people about.
“It’s being done sometimes by poachers who possibly don’t have the right licenses for hunting deer and who don’t have the right type of rifles to kill the animal outright, so they could be using crossbows or rifles that mean the animal is suffering. You have deer all over Northern Ireland but it is predominantly in the forests in the west.
“We’ve been working with the PSNI to raise awareness so that if people do see someone out at night shining bright lamps into the forest, they know to report that to the police because that is likely someone poaching deer.
“It has been a successful operation in that regard and it is very welcome. It is about making that awareness known in the local community and in the restaurant trade .”