Rangers keep treetop vigil to snare venison poachers

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The Independent Online

Since the Middle Ages deer have roamed the 1,200 acres that now make up Margam Country Park, near Port Talbot in West Glamorgan, but their future is being threatened by an increase in poaching.

To tackle the problem a poacher watch scheme has been set up by park rangers, Forest Enterprise staff and the police. It includes an intelligence operation - the names of some of the leading poachers are known - the use of sophisticated equipment, such as night sights and a helicopter, and a call for public co-operation.

Poaching is not new on the estate. Roger Jones, the ranger responsible for deer, remembers being on anti-poacher patrol when he arrived 17 years ago. "The difference now is the scale is so much greater," he said. It is now big business.

Mr Jones blames economic hardship and the growth in the market for venison for greater activity by professionals and "pot-shot types", but said: "Forget the romantic image of the poacher. These are professional gangs using tactics that are wanton and cruel. Thousands of pounds are being made by the gangs." He said being close to the motorway made the estate particularly accessible

Rangers on the estate, which has been managed by the county council since 1974, are also fearful for the survival of the 20-strong herd of Pere David deer which was brought from Whipsnade Zoo as part of a breeding programme.

In one audacious raid nets were hung between trees and a herd of deer driven in to them. Fortunately, the netting was not strong enough to hold the animals, which broke through.

More basic techniques, using lurcher dogs and shot guns or .22 rifles, have accounted for a quarter of the 600-strong herd. In many cases the poachers fail to kill the animals cleanly, which then suffer a lingering death or have to be humanely destroyed.

South Wales police are particularly concerned about the use of fire arms. They are seeking to curb the local market for venison by checking pubs and restaurants for illegally taken deer.

Since the scheme began last month one arrest has already been made after a member of the public alerted staff to a man behaving suspiciously. And on the Thursday before Christmas a ranger, Allison Lloyd, and a volunteer, Robert Jones, were tipped off that three men were climbing over the boundary wall. Night sights helped track them down but the suspects escaped.