NORTH Yorkshire's new police rural task force, the biggest in the country, has had over 1,500 reports of poaching in its first year, arrested over 100 people and seized 40 vehicles.

The inspector in charge of the special force said they have also contacted 8,500 farmers across the county and visited 1,000 of them in the battle to clamp down on crime across the countryside and encourage crime prevention.

Inspector Jon Grainge told members of North Yorkshire County Council's Hambleton area committee they are adopting a problem solving approach and identifying areas that are of concern to the public.

The task force was set up in April 2016 because of crimes committed and the fear of crime in rural communities. He said it wasn't purely crime prevention, they also dealt with problems with drugs and money laundering.

Insp Grainge said there had been 1,500 incidents of poaching, with 380 reported in Hambleton, and they are starting to have some success in counteracting it.

"This is a significant issue we should be taking action against and we are just starting to see a bit of a downward trend and people are taking notice of what we are doing. We are getting the message out that people aren’t welcome in North Yorkshire if they are poaching. "

Insp Grainge said they work with many already well established volunteer Rural Watch Schemes, encouraging greater involvement and insurance cover.

"We want to establish more of these, they are our eyes and ears, gathering information that is helpful so we can actually tackle the people involved in crime."

The officer said one of the highest profile crimes had been the seizure and destruction of a Land Rover Discovery which had caused extensive damage to farmland at Topcliffe, near Thirsk. The courts ordered the seizure of the vehicle and fined the offender, a 33-year-old man from Peterlee, after he was convicted of criminal damage when the Land Rover became stuck,buried up to its axle in the field.

Councillor Gareth Dadd asked if it would not have been better to sell the vehicle which would have enabled the police to ease up on the issuing of speeding fines, which is of increasing concern.

Insp Grainge said they would normally sell them, but crushing the Discovery had created publicity, which brought a big reaction and helped to get the message across to offenders.