Residents living in fear of stray bullets from deer poachers
People living on the edge of Tollymore Forest fear it is only a matter of time before someone is hurt by poachers shooting deer close to homes at night.
The illegal hunters are using a laneway at Priest's Bridge as a place to park vehicles and load them with carcasses without being caught by police, locals said.
Residents warned someone could be seriously hurt if nothing was done to tackle the problem.
Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph reported that the main gates of Tollymore were being closed after 5pm in winter to deter the poachers.
But one resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said the park was still "wide open" and had numerous access points.
"The Forest Service are allowing access everywhere," they added. "There is a barrier on the lane and the poachers can drive up to it, shoot what they want, collect it and drive out again.
"People have been coming in and shooting round our houses. I've been woken up at 3am when cars were coming into the laneway to pick up the carcasses."
The woman also told how on one occasion she feared her husband had been hit by a bullet after he went to the garden. "I heard the bullet whistling past - I thought he'd been shot," she said.
The resident claimed that people had contacted the Forest Service to complain about easy access, only to be told it was not the agency's responsibility.
Another resident said the Forest Service was reluctant to take responsibility and police were not inclined to pursue the matter.
"If you are going to protect the wildlife, you have to keep the poachers out," she added.
"If they take a shot at a deer and miss it, how far does that bullet travel? It could hit anything."
The PSNI said it had received no reports of deer poaching at Tollymore this year but had been working with the Forestry Service to increase awareness of the problem and to encourage the public to help officers.
Gates are locked by forestry staff to prevent vehicles entering the property, added PSNI wildlife liaison officer Emma Meredith.
A PSNI presentation on reporting crime has also been delivered to forestry staff to promote reporting of wildlife crime.
"In 2012, 2013 and 2014, we received one report each year of deer poaching in the Tollymore area," the PSNI said. "This year we have received no reports, and we are delighted that our partnership work appears to be paying off.
"We would encourage anyone who lives close to forest park areas to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to us at the earliest opportunity on 101. We can only respond and gain an accurate understanding of the level of crime when incidents are reported to us."