POACHERS could face a court appearance and a coronavirus fixed penalty notice, police have warned.

Officers on anti-poaching patrols located four 4x4 vehicles reportedly travelling in a convoy near Pateley Bridge at about 6pm on Sunday.

None of the occupants could provide a reasonable excuse for their presence, and all were issued with fixed penalty notices for breaching coronavirus regulations.

In a separate incident the previous day, police received a report that a large group of men had gathered in Pateley Bridge.

Although the men drove off and were not located, crucial information was secured from police Rural Watch members.

Inquires are ongoing into both incidents. Suspected poachers in North Yorkshire face being summonsed to court, or receiving community protection notices – breaches of which will lead to prosecution.

Insp Matt Hagen, from North Yorkshire Police, said: “It beggars belief that anyone would breach vital public health regulations to go poaching. But we’ve had a number of concerning reports from residents in rural parts of North Yorkshire, particularly around Pateley Bridge and Skipton, that this may be happening.

“Poaching is far from a victimless crime. Poachers have no regard for farmers or landowners, often causing thousands of pounds worth of damage to fields and crops. Not only that, but their actions can leave residents feeling extremely vulnerable and fearful. And in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, this criminality is even more unacceptable.”

He added: “We have increased poaching patrols in rural areas to put a stop to this. Thanks to our Rural Watch volunteers, and local communities themselves, we can respond swiftly to reports – so poachers will find it very difficult to enter and leave North Yorkshire unchallenged.”

Residents are encouraged to note down and report any suspicious activity, such as unusual vehicle movements, particularly in remote or isolated areas. Even if the information does not need an immediate response, every piece of intelligence helps the police build up a picture and could prove vital in bring criminals to justice.

Call police on 101 if it’s not urgent – or 999 in an emergency or a crime is in progress. This includes if you witness poaching taking place – this is a crime, and should be reported as such.