POLICE are asking people in the Aire Valley to be vigilant late at night and in the early hours after six dead hares were found dumped on land by poachers.

The hares had been found on Sunday morning on farmland near Bradley.

It followed reports of poachers with dogs and guns being seen in the early hours of Saturday morning.

“It is thought the hares had been off-loaded by the poachers who had been disturbed when police arrived.

A local resident who found the dead animals and did not wish to be named said: “This is wanton destruction. We have many rabbits but so few hares and to decimate them is dreadful as eventually they will become extinct.

“We rarely see them but they are an absolute joy to watch as they fly across the valley.

“Although the police were called apparently they did not arrive in time and the culprits had fled dumping their booty.

“If these men were hungry and needed food to feed their families then surely one solitary hare would have been sufficient for the pot.

“The poachers come when it snows as they have a good view of the hares and often after harvest again because they can spot the hares more easily. They aren’t the sort of folk that you would tackle.

“When the roe deer ventured down to the canal bank or come into fields which butt onto the A629, wonderful to see but we know it is like a death knell for them as someone will spot them and the gun men are alerted and that’s usually the end of them.”

It is not known if the hares had been coursed and caught by the dogs or shot.

It is understood the poachers were spotted in fields near the bus stop on the A629 with very high powered lamps, dogs and guns and worked their way across the fields towards farms.

Ward councillor Andy Brown said he was distressed at the news.

He said: "These rare and beautiful creatures deserve our respect and protection. It is outrageous."

North Yorkshire Police said they had been alerted to the incident. A spokesman for the Force said: “Police were called with a report of suspected poachers on farmland near Bradley at 1.30am on Saturday, September 15.

“North Yorkshire Police officers responded immediately and conducted a search of the area. Unfortunately, on this occasion, no suspects were located.”

Insp Jon Grainge, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: “Poaching is one of six national rural and wildlife crime priorities, and has a significant impact on the rural communities of North Yorkshire, often leaving local residents in fear of further crimes. We will not tolerate this offending in our communities, and deal with all reports robustly.”

The police added they hoped members of the public could play a vital role in preventing this sort of crime, by acting as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the police in rural areas. Anyone with information about suspected poaching or hare coursing should call us on 101, or 999 if a crime is in progress.

Anyone with information about the Bradley incident can ring the police on 1012 quoting incident number NYP-15092018-0043.