Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service (DSTSS) , Devon and Cornwall Police and Avon and Somerset Constabulary have been recognised for a joint anti-poaching operation.
The three organisations received a runner up award for the National Wildlife Crime Operation of the Year at the National Wildlife Enforcers Conference.
It follows a joint anti-poaching 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 with an interest in tackling wildlife crime.
They include the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), the Border Force, the Crown Prosecution Service, non-government organisations and councils. This year the conference was attended by over 150 representatives.
Operation Costa was a result of two and a half years of investigation and intelligence gathering and followed concerns about poaching across Exmoor 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 DSTSS worked closely with both police forces and the NWCU in collating the intelligence. In January 2016 business and residential properties were inspected and searched by officers from the two forces, the NWCU and DSTSS.
Five people were arrested and numerous shotguns and firearms 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 species of the animal product on sale. Carcasses were found at a number of addresses and tests carried out to establish the type of weapon used to kill the animals.
Cash, phones, computers and other weapons were also seized during the operation.
Councillor 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 for it to end up in restaurants, hotels or with meat suppliers.
“These people are in it for financial gain, and linked to other types of criminality. There have been instances of poachers trespassing and then shooting or using dogs to take deer and threaten landowners.
“Landowners lose out and they don’t care that the public could be at risk from food that isn’t checked and tested by the usual standards.”
Councillor David Hall, Somerset County Council’s Deputy Leader with responsibility for trading standards, said:
“Without this joined up approach and cooperation between all agencies involved 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.
“I would like to thank all agencies involved in making sure that such a response to this issue was possible.”
Chief Inspector Martin Sims, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit said:
“Poaching is one of the countries national wildlife priorities and operations such as this can only happen by all parties working together. The dedication show by those involved to deal with this matter needs to be commended. It has taken a lot of hard work over a long period of time to get to this point and without their commitment and enthusiasm to deal with these individuals this operation would not have taken place.”