By Rene Gerryts
A Gamekeeper was chased by a pair of shotgun-wielding poachers.
Dorset Police mobilised armed officers following the incident.
The force’s police dog unit was also called to the incident on land between Melplash and Beaminster.
The gamekeeper saw two men in their 20s wearing black woolly hats studying a map by torchlight at around 9.30pm on Friday. They had shotguns and when he challenged them they chased him.
The police searched until 11.30pm but didn’t find the poachers, one of whom was reported to have an Eastern European accent.
Insp Mike Darby said a similar incident happened in Somerset recently.
He said: “We are looking to see if they are any links between the two incidents.”
He said: “Hampshire has recently done a quite extensive anti-poaching operation and have done some groundbreaking work in relation to combating the use of dogs in illegal hunting and we are speaking to local landowners about targeting people we know who are engaged in the offence of poaching, using gamekeepers to assist us spotting unusual activity at nighttime when we will be deploying resources.”
NFU West Dorset branch secretary Paul Bennett said: “This instance is particularly disturbing.
“While neighbouring areas have had problems, illegal activity such as this involving firearms have been few and far between in West Dorset.
“It was good the police response was so prompt.”
The incident comes as police launch a new operation targeting illegal poachers in West Dorset after a surge in complaints from local farmers.
Police have been targeting 4x4 vehicles driving on country lanes and searched the vehicles, with a number of pieces of poaching equipment, including lamps, knives and catapults seized by officers and now being investigated by police.
Inspector Steve Marsh of Dorset Police said the first part of the operation had been a success and would continue over the coming months.
Insp Marsh said: “We carried out a poaching operation concentrating on rural areas and supporting the concerns of the farming community.
“In particular we are targeting those who poach and take deer.
“More than 35 vehicles were stopped in the operation and drivers were asked to account for their movements.
“Several items suspected of being used in poaching were seized to allow further enquires to take place.
“We would be very keen to hear from pubs and restaurants who may have been offered venison and other game through unlicenced sources. In many cases the animals are sourced illegally, killed inhumanely and not correctly prepared prior to entering the food chain.
“The operation will be repeated and poachers will be targeted.
“Many of those connected with poaching offences are also involved in other forms of rural criminality. Members of the public are urged to contact Dorset Police should they see any suspicious activity taking place on land during the hours of darkness.”
• 'Huge problem for farmers'
Rupert Rees, secretary of the Dorchester National Farmer’s Union branch, right, said he supported the police operation as illegal poaching is a huge problem for local farmers.
Mr Rees said: “I understand what happens is people cut the barbed fences into farms and then drive across the fields to have a go at poaching.
“This causes a number of problems for farmers because cattle and sheep can escape through the cut fences, and it is the farmer’s responsibility to ensure the livestock remain on the field.
“Poaching also has a huge economic impact on farmers. It scares sheep and cattle and obviously reduces numbers of deer.
“Poaching is very disruptive to local farmers.”