POACHING is becoming a big problem in parts of Ryedale, according to the police, with wholesale trespassing by gangs of armed men.

The news comes as two teenagers, aged 15 and 18, and two men, aged 20 and 26, from the South Shields area and with four lurchers, were caught and interviewed by police on the Earl of Mexborough’s Hawnby Estate near Helmsley last weekend.

They had their black Peugeot vehicle, which was reported to have had a hare in the back, confiscated.

It happened a week after poachers were found on the Duncombe Park Estate, lamping for game.

Police said they were questioned under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

PC Andy Grant, the neighbourhood officer for Southern Ryedale East, told the Malton rural area community and police group at its meeting at Weaverthorpe that the poachers – many from the North East and South Yorkshire – were hunting game.

But their sophisticated illegal operations are having a detrimental effect on the rural economy of Ryedale, said PC Grant. While a pheasant might only yield £1 for a poacher from a butcher, they cost the local gamekeepers more than £10 to rear.

In addition, he said, shooting parties were a key part of Ryedale’s economy with some people paying up to £1,000 for a day’s shooting.

“We are not just talking about an odd pheasant, but whole woods being cleared out,” said PC Grant.

A specialist campaign, Operation Leveret, helped to hunt down several gangs of poachers in the Ryedale area, he said. It involved the police and the Countryside Watch teams of farmers and landowners working together.

One of the biggest problems is poachers using dogs, said PC Grant.

Poaching becomes rife at this time of the year when farmers have completed their harvesting and poachers move on to land, running illegal hare-coursing competitions. Gangs of seven and eight strong are frequently on farmland, he said.

In some instances vehicles are driven into fields which have been newly seeded with next year’s grain crops.

“They are causing criminal damage to the crops as well as trespassing in pursuit of game,” said PC Grant.

Two youths from the Hull area were recently caught by police shooting pheasants at night at Wintringham and were found to be in possession of guns and camouflage gear.

“It is a real concern,” he said. ‘‘Farmers are often reluctant to approach these people because of the fear of being threatened or injured.”