POACHERS are believed to have targeted North Yorkshire three times last night.

It was the second night in a row villagers and farmers spotted strangers behaving suspiciously, strange vehicles or strange lights at night in the county.

Members of the public alerted police to potential poachers at West Heslerton near Malton, late on Tuesday night and early this morning at Scawton near Helmsley and Danby near Whitby. Police responded to all three.

In the early hours of Tuesday, a farmer had challenged a group of men with dogs in a Vauxhall Zafira, suspected of poaching on land near South Otterington, Northallerton. The men had made off as police searched the area.

Inspector Matt Hagen, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: “Poachers often have no regard for farmers and landowners, causing thousands of pounds of damage to crops.

"Victims are often intimidated or even threatened with violence if they challenge offenders, leaving them feeling vulnerable to further crimes, particularly in isolated areas.”

North Yorkshire Police has just launched Operation Figaro to combat poaching, alongside the long-running national Operation Galileo.

On average, police are called to more than 50 incidents of suspected poaching in North Yorkshire every month. Incidents tend to increase significantly from August onwards, during and after harvest time.

They promise that anyone caught poaching will be summonsed to court, while those stopped in suspicious circumstances will be issued with a community protection warning or a community protection notice to prevent them poaching. Breaching either is a criminal offence.