HAMPSHIRE police are launching a crackdown on poaching and other rural crime amid fears that illegal activity in the countryside is about to increase.

Officers say there is often a sharp rise in rural crime in the autumn, with the end of the harvest and the arrival of darker evenings providing perfect conditions for people anxious to remain unseen.

Sergeant Andy Williams of the Country Watch team said: “Activities such as poaching and hare coursing have a knock-on effect for landowners and gamekeepers.

“Their livelihoods are disrupted and thousands of pounds are lost from the local economy.

“Poachers aren’t the old-fashioned ‘one for the pot’ characters seen in fiction. They’re nearly always associated with other criminality, including rural burglaries, thefts and damage to property.

“Tackling poaching, which can include deer, game birds and fish, is one of the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s priorities.

“The Country Watch team is supporting this effort with targeted operations involving our partners in the rural community, and by increasing patrols.

“Our powers include the seizure of dogs, equipment and even vehicles used in poaching and other illegal activity.”

The crackdown comes as police search for the occupants of a vehicle thought to have been used for poaching.

Officers are appealing for help after a Suzuki Grand Vitara was involved in a crash with a Ford Transit van in Brockwood Bottom, Bramdean on October 20.

PC Lee Skinner said: “We believe the vehicle was involved in a poaching incident in Bramdean a short time before the collision.

“We think a cyclist witnessed the incident but did not leave their details. If you know this person, or if this was you, please call us.”

Call Hampshire police on 101.