Increase in poaching forces deer to become creatures of the night
Deer in some of Northern Ireland's forests are turning nocturnal, apparently in a bid to avoid poachers, experts believe.
Police say they are concerned that poaching is going on in forests in the Tyrone and Fermanagh areas and are urging the public to report anything suspicious.
In recent months the PSNI has teamed up with councils, environmental groups and country sports groups in the Cookstown area to try and ensure illegal venison does not reach the human food chain.
Their concerns were sparked following a report last year that a female deer was found with gunshot injuries in Davagh Forest after she was apparently targeted by poachers.
Environmental officers are also involved in the campaign, concerned that people who buy venison "off the back of a lorry" may not realise that they could be eating contaminated meat from an animal that was not shot cleanly.
The British Deer Society says it is proving difficult to assess the extent of poaching in Northern Ireland, but the indications are that wild deer poaching has been on the rise for a number of years.
Spokesman Martin Malone said: "Unfortunately, this is an unseen problem and hard evidence is difficult to gather and prosecutions few. Most of the evidence is hearsay, with a general feeling that in certain areas deer numbers have fallen from numbers previously seen, and often deer are reverting to nocturnal behaviour due to the pressure from poaching."
The group said wild deer have no natural predators so their numbers need to be controlled, but some poachers are using firearms of unsuitable calibres, resulting in serious wounding and suffering rather than a clean kill.
Chairman Greg Kane said: "This is not only illegal – wounding creates significant welfare issues for the deer concerned. Poaching often, although not always, takes place at night, which is also illegal in Northern Ireland and carries a risk to public safety."
Police are calling on members of the public to alert them to unusual vehicle movements around the Cookstown area at any time of day or night, or suspicious remains such as deer heads, legs or innards.
Fallow, red and sika are the three main types of deer in Northern Ireland and deer poaching is an illegal activity under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985.
PSNI wildlife officer Emma Meredith said: "Deer poaching can be barbaric and is against the law. It is the illegal or unauthorised hunting of deer. The Wildlife Order protects deer in Northern Ireland and it is an offence to take deer out of season, at night or enter any land without the consent of the owner, occupier or other lawful authority in search or pursuit of deer with the intention of killing, injuring or taking deer.
"It is encouraging that so many organisations have come together to tackle illegal deer poaching in the Cookstown area. More recently the organisations have collectively worked on deer poaching leaflets and posters to distribute throughout Cookstown. The posters and leaflets were designed so police officers and local organisations such as the partnership organisations can use these to help stop deer poaching anywhere else in Northern Ireland where there are similar issues." The PSNI has joined forces with Countryside Alliance Ireland (CAI), British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Scottish Association for Country Sports (SACS), the British Deer Society (BDS), Environmental Health in Cookstown Council, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Forest Service Northern Ireland and Crimestoppers.
Police are urging anyone with information on deer poaching to contact the PSNI on 0845 600 8000 or anonymously to Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.
Closed seasons for deer:
Fallow deer: Buck – May 1-July 31. Doe – April 1-October 31
Red deer: Stag – May 1-July 31. Hind – April 1-October 31
Sika deer: Stag – May 1-July 31. Hind – April 1-October 31