Poaching and hare coursing gangs often linked with major drugs operations are behind most crimes against wildlife.
In Cumbria last year, 363 wildlife crimes were reported to the police and of those 211 involved poaching, hare coursing and lamping – hunting animals at night with high-powered lights.
In one incident at Sandysyke near Longtown, three people caught for deer poaching were part of an organised gang involved in an armed robbery.
In another incident deer poachers who butchered a number of animals in a garage were found to be part of a major drugs operation.
The shocking scale of wildlife crime in the area was revealed by John Shaw, wildlife officer with Cumbria Police.
He was speaking at a rural crime conference at police headquarters in Penrith organised by the Crimestoppers charity.
He said: “These crimes are of great concern to us and it is an area in which we are putting great efforts.
“These incidents of poaching, hare coursing and lamping are often linked with major crime operations including drugs and armed robberies.”
Also speaking was Cumbria’s Chief Constable Stuart Hyde who has just been made national lead for wildlife and rural crime with the Association for Chief Police Officers (ACPO)
The conference heard that while the number of recorded rural crimes had fallen from 5,766 in 2010 to 5,581 last year, there had been a big rise in thefts of fuel, scrap metal and tools.
Mr Hyde said the police were working with organisations such as Crimestoppers and the National Farmers’ Union to combat rural crime.
“In a county such as Cumbria it is very important that we tackle this issue,” he said.
“The theft of quad bikes, fuel and scrap metal impacts heavily on our farmers and their livelihoods.”
Mr Hyde said one initiative was the issue of red stickers for farmers to put on their quads to remind them to remove the keys when leaving their vehicles.
He added that in his new role as wildlife and rural crime lead with ACPO he was able to use the experience gathered in his policing role in Cumbria. “I think that is why I was asked. There is so much going on here in Cumbria in terms of wildlife and rural crime that we have good expertise in this area,” he said.
Gary Murray, north west regional manager for Crimestoppers, said there was a major link between rural crime and serious, organised offences.
“It is important that we get together as many ideas and initiatives as we can to protect Cumbria from these criminals,” he said.