Rural officers need public’s help to tackle cruel trend of targeting wild animals and birds

Essex Police’s rural engagement officers are appealing for the public’s help in tackling a disturbing crime trend which sees wild animals cruelly targeted for fun.

PC Jed Raven, the force’s Wildlife Crime and Heritage officer, explains that there has been a rise in reports of people catapulting wild animals and birds in urban areas and country parks with metal ball bearings or bits of shot.

Foxes, otters and other mammals, pigeons, swans and other waterfowl can be targets.

PC Raven is the national police lead for Operation Lakeshot, which focuses on education and preventing re-offending as well as detection and bringing offenders to justice.

An injured peregrine falcon found in Chelmsford

He says: “Some people think it’s just a bit of harmless fun but the animal or bird they hit could suffer a long and painful death as a result.

“Causing any creature pain and suffering is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

“The vast majority of people simply want to get out and enjoy nature but a small minority just want to hurt things.

“It’s not just catapults, people sometimes target wildlife with air weapons and crossbows. But any way you look at it, it’s dangerous and it is cruel. And animal cruelty can be a precursor to more serious crimes.”

It has been identified as a rising crime trend nationally. Areas of concern in Essex include Chafford Gorges Nature Discovery Park near Grays and Northlands Park in Basildon.

Jed and his fellow rural engagement officers work with our community policing teams across Essex, along with council park and street wardens, the Essex Wildlife Trust and wildlife hospitals to identify offenders and to put a stop to their cruel activities.

Nationally, the RSPCA, the RSPB, the Environment Agency, the Metropolitan Police and the Angling Trust are involved with Operation Lakeshot. We also liaise with other forces via the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

Jed says: “Anyone who walks in or patrols our parks and towns are our eyes and ears. We need you to tell us what you know.

“We identified this trend because people were reporting incidents to us and the RSPCA. If you don’t tell us, we can’t act. You can report information and incidents to us online via www.essex.police.uk/ro but, if it’s a crime in progress or there’s a danger to public safety, ring 999.”

As well as their usual policing powers to combat crime and anti-social behaviour, police officers have additional search powers under the Wildlife and Countryside Act to look for weapons and other evidence if they are suspected to have committed an offence under the act.

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: mickferris@yellowad.co.uk