Police have seen an increase in the number of reports of lamping offences – illegally hunting hares and rabbits with greyhounds or lurchers using high-powered lights at nights to identify target animals – in rural areas this autumn.

Western Rural Neighbourhood Policing Team has investigated offences in Frodsham, Helsby, Kingsley, Alvanley, Newton and Cuddington in the past month alone, and officers believe more incidents are likely to have gone unreported.

Wildlife crime officer PC Adam Norton told The Chronicle that they have found mutilated badgers and foxes amongst the ‘usual quarry of hares and rabbits’ and that most of the offenders are ‘criminals with a reckless disregard for the law, landowners and their property’.

He said: “Our experience, locally, is that groups of men are routinely trespassing on farmland, throughout rural Cheshire, often damaging property to gain access.

“These groups then set their dogs on any wildlife they find, indiscriminately.

“Besides the illegal nature of the activity, it is important to understand that most lampers are not merely engaged controlling ‘vermin’.

“They routinely hunt and kill endangered species and revel in the cruelty and suffering they inflict.

“Anyone trespassing on land in pursuit of game is committing the offence of poaching and is liable to prosecution and a fine. Furthermore, anyone hunting mammals with dogs – whether trespassing or not – commits an offence under the Hunting Act, which carries similar penalties.”

A spokesman for Cheshire Wildlife Trust explained that the brown hare population has reduced markedly since the 1960s due to environmental changes in the countryside.

“The sight of hares boxing amongst crops and meadows is a quintessential spring picture, so any increase in illegal human activity that may further reduce their numbers certainly won’t help their local recovery here in Cheshire,” he added.

PC Norton is appealing to people to look out for ‘tell-tale signs’ such as lamps flashing in fields, vehicles parked near points of access to fields, during the early hours of the morning and groups entering land with greyhounds or similar dog breeds.

Anyone with information about suspected wildlife crime is asked to contact Cheshire police on 101 or 999 if there is an immediate risk of injury or damage to property.

Alternatively, an anonymous report can be made via Crimestoppers on 0800555111 or at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.