By Hayley Dixon
Organised gangs of poachers are “systematically” slaughtering Britain's red deer pollution to cash in on a demand for venison, experts have warned.
Police and wildlife agencies say they are selling their catches on the meat and antler black market.
The gangs are using telescopic rifles with night sights, crossbows, powerful lamps and 4x4 vehicles to hunt down and kill the animals.
They then sell the meat to "unscrupulous" butchers, dealers and restaurants – making around £200 per carcass and several thousand for a set of fully-grown stag horns.
The National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) says the gang influx is transforming poaching from a cottage criminal industry into a mass-scale slaughter.
Det Insp Nevin Hunter, head of the NWCU, said: "The odd guy going and poaching the odd deer is probably less serious to deal with than the person involved who is part of a gang that is going around and systematically taking large numbers of animals and threatening people on farms.
"What we do know is that people will travel all around the country involved in illegal poaching."
Experts say the worst hit area of the country is Exmoor National Park on the Devon and Somerset border, where seven stags were recently found butchered and decapitated.
PC Martin Beck, wildlife crime officer for Devon and Cornwall Police, said poachers sell their venison to "unscrupulous butchers, game dealers and pubs and restaurants looking for meat through the back door". More....