A JOINT anti-poaching operation on Exmoor by three organisations was recognised when they received an award at the National Wildlife Enforcers Conference.

Avon and Somerset Constabulary, Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service, Devon and Cornwall Police and received a runner-up award for the National Wildlife Crime Operation of the Year.

It follows their operation earlier this year on Exmoor and work to prevent the illegal supply of poached meat into the food chain.

The annual conference brings wildlife officers from the UK’s police forces together with agencies involved in tackling wildlife crime.

They include the National Wildlife Crime Unit, the Border Force, the Crown Prosecution Service, non-government organisations and councils, and the conference was attended by over 150 representatives.

The anti-poaching operation on Exmoor, Operation Costa, was a result of two and a half years of investigation and intelligence gathering, and followed concerns about poaching by the community and the police.

The Exmoor Rural Crime Initiative was formed, public meetings were held and the South West Illegal Meat Group was set up.

The three award winning groups worked closely with each other and the National Wildlife Crime Unit in collating intelligence.

Chief Inspector Martin Sims, head of the unit said: “Poaching is one of the country’s national wildlife priorities and operations such as this can only happen by all parties working together.

“The dedication shown by those involved needs to be commended, it has taken a lot of hard work over a long period and without their commitment and enthusiasm to deal with these individuals, this operation would not have taken place.”

In January 2016, business and residential properties were searched, and five people were arrested while numerous shotguns, firearms and other weapons, as well as cash, phones and computers, were seized.

One person subsequently appeared in Crown Court charged with firearms offences.

A number of meat samples were also taken and tested to establish the animal species on sale, and carcases were found at a number of addresses. Tests were carried out to establish the type of weapon used to kill the animals.

Cllr Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for Devon and Somerset Trading Standards, said: “Poaching is no longer about one person taking something home for their larder, but an organised criminal operation where deer, fish and livestock are taken and often sold on, to end up in restaurants, hotels or with meat suppliers.

“These people don’t care that the public could be at risk from food that isn’t checked and tested by the usual standards.”

Cllr David Hall, Somerset County Council deputy leader, thanked all agencies involved: “Without this joined up approach and co-operation and the hard work of the officers, this operation wouldn’t have taken place.

“We are still working to provide collaborative enforcement with some of those involved to make sure that they are complying with their legal obligations.

“Poaching patrols are and will continue to take place across Exmoor.”