03rd September 2016
An article by Special Constable Alan Marwood, Nottinghamshire Police Rural Proactive Team

Red Deer in Wollaton Park, Nottinghamshire

As Autumn approaches Wordsworth's poem of mist and mellow fruitfulness brings evocative images of fields laden with fruit, streams awash with trout, salmon and the hedgerows with pheasants partridge and other game.

This is the traditional haunt of the poacher, abound at night, padding silently through woods taking the odd pheasant to supplement his dinner table. However today's poacher is highly likely to be mobile, using dogs, snares and firearms to take game, with little or no regard for the conservation of our species.

The law regarding poaching in 1828, then the Game Act of 1831 and the Night Poaching Act of 1828 gave the first legislation to deal with poaching. The penalties then included transportation to American and later Australian colonies, and there are instances of people being hung for repeated poaching. Today's criminals are spared these fates.

The law contains two principal offences
  • Poaching by Day
  • Poaching by Night

Daytime Poaching
This is covered by sections 30,31,32 and 35 of the Game Act 1831

It is an offence to trespass by day on any land in pursuit or in search of any hare, pheasant, partridge, Heath or moor game, black game, woodcock, snipe or rabbits.

Furthermore, if more than 5 persons are present together for the purpose of poaching then an additional offence is given, and an even more serious offence is created if more than 5 persons jointly trespass, search or pursue any game and are armed with a gun or use intimidation or violence towards an authorised person. This would also be considered as offences under the Firearms Act and under the Persons Act. All of the above-mentioned actions are arrestable offences.

Nighttime Poaching
This is a specific offence under the Night Poaching Act of 1828 Section 1.

Firstly night is defined as an hour after sunset and until 1 hour before sunrise.

The key points, which are considered offences are to enter any land open or enclosed with any gun, net, engine, instrument, snare or trap for the purpose of taking, or to destroy any of the creatures mentioned in the daytime act, including a bustard. Again if any aggravating features are present, e.g. using violence or intimidation then an additional offence is created.

Another separate offence is considered if the landowner, gamekeeper or any servant is assaulted, or if such violence is threatened or offered. Furthermore, if 3 or more persons entered any open or enclosed land to take game or if they are armed then additional offences will apply.

A weapon is defined for poaching as any gun, firearm including an air rifle, bludgeon, crossbow, or other offensive weapon. There can be more serious offences especially in relation to firearms and trespass with a firearm.

In addition to these two principle legislations about poaching there are the following additional legal aspects to consider:
Poaching Deer
Many of the provisions in the Game Act apply to the taking of deer, but additionally this is covered by the Deer Act of 1991. The Deer Act provides for close seasons (periods during, which deer may not be shot except in certain restricted circumstances) and also gives specific guidelines for those who can lawfully take deer, for example it specifies the type of rifle that may be used to ensure a clean kill.

Police Powers
A constable may enter any land if he (or she) has reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is trespassing for the purpose of taking game. These powers apply to day and night.

A constable may stop and search any person who he (or she) suspects to be involved in poaching, and a person must provide their name and address. If a person fails to do so or fails to leave the land then they may be arrested.

There are specific powers of arrest for some offences and certain offences are arrestable offences, e.g. unlicensed or prohibited firearms, cruelty to any animal, assaults.

Furthermore a constable may stop and search any person who he (or she) suspects to be involved in poaching. He (or she) may search any vehicle, vessel, cart or conveyance.

A constable may also seize any game that he (or she) suspects to have been unlawfully taken,

A constable may seize nets, snares lamps and or any articles used in the furtherance of poaching.

Persons are normally reported for summons, but persons who refuse to provide details or provide false details can be arrested under provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Illegal taking of fish is theft and separate legislation applies.

If you suspect poaching then call 101 or if you suspect more serious problems, e.g. firearms or cruelty then ring 999. Don't approach poachers as they are inclined to react in an unpredictable manner and it is better to gain as much information and inform the police.

Nottinghamshire Police has dedicated officers who will investigate rural crime and are always prepared to help and assist.