During my recent week working at the National Wildlife Crime Unit many of the intelligence logs with which I dealt related to deer poaching. Before I worked with NWCU I was always under the impression that deer poaching was mainly a Scottish problem. Definitely not! There are parts of England and Wales where the number of incidents clearly exceeds the incidence in Scotland; in fact to an extent that was quite alarming. Some of the individuals or gangs seemed to poach the deer locally, though others were regularly crossing force boundaries and making a real business of their criminality.
When I worked as wildlife crime officer with Tayside Police we often had cross-border deer poaching gangs encroaching on our area as well. One well-known gang was based in the west of Scotland towns of Greenock and Port Glasgow and were poaching in west Perthshire on a regular basis. I wrote of them in ‘A Lone Furrow’….
The Greenock and Port Glasgow mob were after deer as well. The first I knew about them was when a gamekeeper, Jock McDonald, had spotted their lamp shining into a field near his house in the early hours of the morning and had jumped out of his bed, quickly dressed, and took off in his car to investigate. He found the offending vehicle with the lamp and followed it to see what was happening. As sometimes happens in remote areas he had no reception on his mobile phone to contact the police and hung back to watch. A few minutes later Jock saw the vehicle, a long wheelbase Land Rover, driving towards him at speed. He took to the verge to let it pass and turned to pursue it. As he followed the Land Rover a roe deer was thrown from the back on to the roadway. Jock gave up the chase at that point and collected the roe deer as evidence. By the time he did this he had lost the Land Rover and gave up in disgust.
Jock contacted me in the morning and I went to see the roe deer. There were the usual marks on the haunch of the deer where it had first been gripped by a dog to take it down, then the marks on the throat where the dog had killed – or tried to kill – the deer. What was unusual in this case was there was also another mark on the deer that seemed to be from a bullet. The wound was far too serious to have been caused by a .22 rim fire bullet. It looked more like a wound from a slightly larger calibre, perhaps a .22 Hornet, and was in a non-fatal place so would only have injured the deer. It looked like the deer had been shot and injured and a dog or dogs set on it to finish it off. It was unfortunate that the keeper never managed to get the registration number of the Land Rover. Without it that particular enquiry was at an end. I found out the registration number several weeks later, but too late to gather any worthwhile evidence.
A few weeks later Jock saw another vehicle using a spotlight in the middle of the night and managed to get its registration number as it took off from him. It was a car this time and it was not registered to the present keeper of the vehicle. I made enquiries via a motor auction in the west of Scotland and managed to find out who had bought the car. This was what put me on to the Greenock and Port Glasgow gang, who had also owned the Land Rover I spoke of earlier. The new owner of the car was from Greenock and I saw from looking at his associates that he was in with a group of another four people who had dogs and were involved in poaching, amongst many other criminal activities. I circulated the number to gamekeepers in the area and asked them to look out for the vehicle.
I did not have long to wait, though it was not the Land Rover that the team were using this time, it was another car owned by the Land Rover driver’s associate. The vehicle had been well off the road up a farm track when its occupants were challenged by a farmer. The men stated that they were looking for rabbits to chase with their dogs and said that they were sorry for being on his land. What they really meant was that they were sorry that they had been caught. In any event they cleared out, no doubt to continue their illegal nocturnal activities elsewhere.
Within a few weeks, when Jock was out at night patrolling the roads, he saw a suspicious car parked at the roadside. He stopped to speak to the occupants, who were four men with west of Scotland accents, accompanied by at least four lurchers. They threatened him with violence and he wisely backed off and called the police. By the time the police arrived the car was long gone. The vehicle registration number again checked out to the Greenock and Port Glasgow gang.
Shortly afterwards keepers on another estate disturbed a group of men using a spotlight from a Land Rover in the middle of the night. The Land Rover took off and disappeared out of sight in a matter of minutes. It was obviously a far more powerful Land Rover than that of the keepers, who were left well behind in the pursuit. When I got the registration number from the keepers and checked it out it was a diesel turbo Land Rover and registered in the name of one of the associates of the man who had bought the car used in one of the previous escapades. I circulated this new registration number to the keepers and to the local police officers and sat back to wait again……..
(Things never change. Even having been caught and convicted since that time I see their names still cropping up while carrying out my NWCU role)
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