WILTSHIRE Police launched a new operation this week in a bid to tackle poaching across the county.

Poaching can take many forms, but the poaching of hares, deer and pheasants is an ongoing issue in Wiltshire that Operation Artemis hopes to address.

The aptly chosen name for the operation refers to Artemis, the Greek/Roman goddess of the hunt and of wild places.

Wiltshire Police are encouraging members of the public to report any incidents of poaching, to help officers build a better picture of the poaching issues in the county and to target offenders through rural operations.

Operation Artemis will also aim to help rural communities understand how they can disrupt and prevent poaching on their land.

Rural Crime Officer PC Marc Jackson said: “As part of the rural crime partnership we have listened to the concerns of landowners, farmers, game keepers and agricultural workers within Wiltshire.

“We understand the impact poaching has on their livelihoods and the resulting fear of crime that comes from this.

“We want Operation Artemis to reassure our rural communities that we do take poaching seriously, and anybody found to be committing such offences here will be dealt with robustly. Wiltshire is not a soft touch and we will use the full legislation powers that have been given to us as the police.

“The image of poaching has drastically changed over the years. The idea of poachers just taking one for the pot is no longer the case.

“Many of the groups involved are very organised and travel vast distances, across numerous counties to participate in poaching.”

Operation Artemis is part of the nationally recognised poaching operation Project Trepass, which aims to coordinate action across England and Wales through prevention, intelligence, enforcement and reassurance.

Poaching becomes more frequent at this time of year, when the harvests come down. As harvests have been early this year, Wiltshire Police have already seen an increase in poaching.

PC Jackson continued: “Often poaching involves vast amounts of money and can be connected to other crimes like burglaries, thefts and can involve intimidation and violence towards landowners and gamekeepers.

Illegal betting, which used to be, for example for the catching of hares to eat, is now more to compare the skill of the dogs involved in the poaching.

Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson said: “Wiltshire is a rural county and those living in isolated locations can be vulnerable to crime types that do not affect urban areas.

“It is important that the Force police rural crime as part of its overall policing.

“Rural crime can have a huge impact on local people and businesses. I welcome this new operation and applaud the ongoing work being done by the Rural Crime Team and the Wiltshire Rural Crime Partnership to help keep Wiltshire safe.”

When reporting incidents, please call 101 and quote ‘Operation Artemis’. If a crime is in progress, call 999.