Hills

Operation Galileo against hare coursing in Norfolk

A officer uses a 4x4 truck to patrol remote farm tracks as part of Operation Galileo, a police crackdown on hare coursing Picture: Chris Bishop

A officer uses a 4×4 truck to patrol remote farm tracks as part of Operation Galileo, a police crackdown on hare coursing Picture: Chris Bishop

Archant

Special chief inspector James Spinks heads for the hills when he’s looking for hare coursers.

A police drone is launched to search for hare coursers in the Fens Picture: Chris BishopA police drone is launched to search for hare coursers in the Fens Picture: Chris Bishop

For the high ground west of RAF Marham gives a grandstand view across miles and miles of countryside.

Illegal hunters appear to have gone to ground today, as we bounce along a maze of muddy farm tracks in an all terrain vehicle.

Instead we see a red kite flap nonchalantly by, while a distant hare’s ears poke up above the grass.

SCI Spinks, a ‘special’ for 20 years, admits he loves the role. He is one of a number of farm workers who juggle working on the land with giving the full-time police a hand with protecting rural communities.

Coursing gangs who flock to the Fens from other parts of the country are not only a threat to the hare and other wildlife.

Recent weeks have seen freshly-drilled fields churned up, destroying crops and livelihoods.

Officers from across the force have been out patrolling hotspots today, in what looked to be ideal conditions for coursing.

Recent rain has left the ground soft, cushioning dogs’ feet and making it easier for them to turn as they chase their quarry.

At a briefing before the team set out in marked and unmarked vehicles, rural crime manager Jon Chandler said: “This isn’t just about people who came out for a day trip to enjoy a bit of sport, it’s highly organised.”

PC Chandler added gangs had become indiscriminate about what they were killing, with deer being targeted in other counties by so-called bull lurchers, a powerful cross-breed capable of outrunning and killing them.

As we cruised through the black fens around Southery in an unmarked 4×4, prime coursing fields remained empty. Other units reported a similar lack of criminal activity.

“I’ve yet to work out why on some days, they turn up in their droves and other days just nothing,” said PC Chandler.

Some gangs have taken to operating at night to avoid rural patrols, lighting their quarry with powerful lamps.

Others may have seen their dogs impounded, with 32 seized already during the first few weeks of the coursing season in Norfolk.

Countryside campaigners want to see the courts given powers to impose higher penalties and reclaim kennelling costs from those convicted.


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Volunteers respond to Nenthead snowplough driver appeal

Volunteers respond to Nenthead snowplough driver appeal

image copyrightNenthead Community Snowplough Team

People in one of England’s most remote villages may avoid being stranded this winter after volunteers responded to an urgent appeal for community snowplough drivers.

Nenthead in Cumbria is about 1,500ft (500m) above sea level and is hit by blizzards each year.

At least seven drivers are required to commit to being available to take the vehicle’s wheel one day per week.

Tony Pennell, a retired design and development engineer who built the plough 10 years ago by converting an Army truck, said a shortage of drivers had left the venture in a “critical” position.

Several people have now come forward, the 80-year-old explained.

“Ten days ago, for various reasons, we only had three people who were prepared to drive and we were in a position where we thought we wouldn’t be able to operate this year.

“Now we possibly have eight, although people often like to travel in pairs in case there are any problems so we could still do with a few more.”

Volunteers respond to Nenthead snowplough driver appeal

image copyrightDeb Huby

Volunteers must be qualified to drive 7.5-tonne vehicles and training will be provided by Cumbria County Council.

Mr Pennell said the plough is “vital” for anyone not living alongside the village’s main roads because they are “not treated as a priority” by the local authority’s gritting team.

“If we get ice on the hills it can be lethal,” he warned.

A mechanic is also required to maintain the plough as Mr Pennell says “crawling around under a truck is not easy anymore” given his age.

Staff from South Tynedale Railway Limited at nearby Alston helped last year, but the organisation has since gone into receivership.

Anyone interested in helping should contact the Nenthead Snowplough group on Facebook.

Volunteers respond to Nenthead snowplough driver appeal

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