By Nancy Nicolson
Former police detective Gareth Cole was appointed as the government's Poaching Priority Officer last week and he immediately appealed to farmers to be vigilant.
Mr Cole, who will work with the 43 police forces in England and Wales and eight in Scotland, said that farmers could cut crime by taking pictures of suspicious vehicles on their mobile phones and passing information to local police forces.
He said direct and swift action was fundamental to tackling the growing problem of poaching in the countryside.
"There's a clear link between wildlife crime and organised criminality and it's in the interests of the whole rural community and farmers in particular to use their eyes and ears and be aware on a daily basis of the threat from poachers," he said.
Home Office Minister Alan Campbell announced Mr Cole's appointment during a visit to the National Wildlife Crime Unit base at North Berwick in Scotland which has witnessed a 79% increase in reports of hare coursing last year together with a significant rise in reports of deer poaching.
The minister said the role meant all poaching investigations would now be co-ordinated across the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
He added: "We take the issue of wildlife crime seriously as it can have a devastating effect on our rural communities and the environment in general.
"This type of illegality damages the rural economy and is of concern to urban dwellers who care about animal welfare as much as the rural community."
Mr Campbell conceded there had been difficulties in getting the courts to take these crimes seriously and said stiffer penalties for wildlife crime were under review.
"Penalties need to be a deterrent and for some organised gangs the current punishments are not enough. We are looking at the Proceeds of Crime Act where houses, cars and other assets could be seized. That's the direction we need to push in," he said.
Contact the NWCU on 01620 893 607.