What is poaching?

Poachers have scant regard for the countryside and none at all for wildlife and the farmer's land that they destroy.

Poaching is not the quaint picture of the past of days of yore where it is the one man and his dog shooting a rabbit or pheasant for his meal. Poachers now tend to roam in numbers often driving 4x4 motor vehicles, with a number of dogs and weapons. It is rare that animals are poached merely for food and it is more often the case that animals such as badgers are taken to kill for the takers pleasure and the people involved are more likely to be pursuing other criminal activities.

Poachers often pursue animals such as rabbits, deer and species that fall under the heading of 'game'. Under the Game Act 1831, game refers to hares, pheasants, partridges, grouse, heath or moor game and black game. Under the Night Poaching Act 1828 it includes the above and bustards. Specific provisions relating to the poaching of deer, fish and game are described below, but poaching can now be catered for under the Hunting Act legislation.

What should I do if I see poaching being committed?

Landowners and members of the public need to be aware that some poacher will in possession of firearms, weapons and dogs and as such they must consider their own welfare. Crossbows are not classed as firearms but it is unlawful to kill any bird or animal with a bow or crossbow under section 5 and 11 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is also an offence under the Firearms Act 1968 to enter or be on any land or building as a trespasser whilst in possession of a firearm without reasonable excuse, or without lawful authority or reasonable excuse to have a loaded shotgun or loaded air weapon, or any other firearm loaded or not together with suitable ammunition, in a public place. Most poaching occurs late in the night or early mornings and because of the apparent dangers it is not advisable for members of the public to approach suspected poachers. However taking note of the location, time, date, description and registration numbers of vehicles being used would assist the police in catching the perpetrators.

If you suspect that poaching is occurring in your area please contact the police by telephone on 101.

Day poaching

Under section 30 of the Game Act 1831 it is an offence for any person to trespass in the daytime by entering or being upon any land in search or pursuit of game, woodcock, snipe or rabbits. Daytime is one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. Trespass means a physical entry by a person onto land without permission. For the purposes of poaching law a person shooting or sending a dog from the public road or footpath is a trespasser.

An authorised person may require a person found committing the offence to give their full name and address, and quit the land forthwith. If the details given are false or he fails to quit the land or wilfully continues on the land or returns to the land, he may be arrested. Authorised person means the occupier or person with the right to kill game (persons authorised by them), gamekeeper or servant, and of course a police officer.

The trespassing on land with dogs to hunt game is an unlawful act under the Hunting Act 2004.

Night poaching

Under the Night Poaching Act 1828 it is an offence at night to unlawfully take or destroy any game or rabbits on any land, open or enclosed, this includes public roads, paths and verges. Night is one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise.

It is an offence to enter or be on any land, with any gun, net engine (snare) or other instrument (lamp, slip lead) for the purpose of taking game. The use of a light to take game birds is an offence under section 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Anyone found committing night poaching may be arrested by the owner or occupier, their gamekeepers or servants or person assisting them, on the land or adjoining highway, road or path, and a police officer.

The trespassing on land with dogs to hunt game is an unlawful act under the Hunting Act 2004.

Sale of game

Under the Game Act 1831 a person will commit an offence if he sells or offers or exposes for sale, or has in his possession or transports for the purposes of sale any bird of game unless he has a licence which authorises him to do so.

A Regulatory Reform Order come into force in England and Wales on the 1st August 2007 and:

• Removed the requirement to hold a game licence in order to take or kill game

• Removed the requirement to hold a local authority licence and an excise licence ("dealing licences") in order to deal in game

• Removed the restriction on dealing in game birds and venison during the close season permitting game to be sold all year round, provided game was lawfully taken or killed

Under the Game Act 1831 it is an offence for any person to kill or take game or use any dog, gun, net or other engine or instrument for the purpose of killing or taking any game on a Sunday or Christmas Day. A snare has been held to fall within the meaning of engine.


Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Under Section 2(1) it is not an offence under Section 1 for a person to kill or injure in an attempt to kill, a bird included in Part I of Schedule 2 outside the close season for that bird. Birds in Part I of Schedule 2 are listed below.

Birds such as the coot, tufted duck, gadwall, goldeneye, Canada goose, greylag goose, pink-footed goose, mallard, moorhen, pintail, golden plover, pochard, shoveler, snipe, teal, wigeon and woodcock may not legally be shot on a Sunday or Christmas Day in various parts of England and Wales or outside the closed season. They are covered by annual general licenses issued by Defra/Welsh Assembly.

In England and Wales some counties banned the taking of wildlfowl on a Sunday under the Protection of Birds Act 1954. As a result shooting remains prohibited on Sundays in the North and West Ridings of Yorkshire. Where these counties no longer exist, the restriction remains over the areas that they used to cover. The 1981 Act provides powers for the Secretary of State to apply a Sunday ban to other areas and to prohibit the killing or taking of any wildlfowl at any other time. This has occasionally resulted in a ban for a short period of up to 14 days during severe weather conditions where wildfowl are struggling to survive without the added attentions of hunters.

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