The woman trying to battle a huge rise in the numbers of deer being shot by poachers at a Midland beauty spot has revealed she has been targeted by death threats.
Faye Burton heads up the Staffordshire Rural Policing Liaison Group (RPLG) which acts as the eyes and ears of the police to tackle wildlife crime in the countryside.
According to Ms Burton this year has seen a large rise in the numbers of deer being killed for meat, especially over the festive period.
And as families continue to feel the pinch from soaring food prices, deer poachers on Cannock Chase are resorting to increasingly macabre tactics to avoid detection and continue their illegal meat trade.
Ms Burton has been targeted by poachers concerned that the work of the RPLG could threaten their trade, with deer carcasses thought to currently fetch £100 each.
But she said as the credit crunch continues to bite, the poaching of deer on Cannock Chase has never been worse, especially over the festive period when venison is sold as luxury Christmas fayre.
With an ever widening network of volunteers trying to stop them in their tracks, the poachers, who come from all over the UK, have become more menacing in the hunt for their quarry.
“The network is working really well and poachers know if they come to Staffordshire there is a poaching watch,” Ms Burton said.
“It’s really good although I have been getting abusive calls from the poachers and I’ve now had death threats – it comes with the job and you have to take it on the chin.
“I’ve got a guy who rings up quite regularly, he doesn’t say anything, it is quite creepy.”
As part of the RPLG, landowners, gamekeepers and residents are handed packs to help them keep a record of any suspicious activity.
Since November, police have been carrying out late night patrols with park rangers, RSPCA officers and other wildlife experts.
Cannock Chase covers an area of 26 square miles (41.8 sq km) and it is estimated it is home to about 700 fallow deer, 150 red deer as well as a population of muntjak deer.
Ms Burton said that the increase in scrutiny from organisations such as RPLG which is putting the poachers under pressure.
“They’ve got more and more desperate over the years. In the early days you’d have some banter with them, but now you really have to be on the mark. You have to assess the situation and not put yourself in jeopardy because these people are carrying weapons, big knives and guns.”
While police are now helping the volunteers, with increased patrols and following up on reports, Ms Burton said the poachers have adapted their tactics in gruesome ways.
“They’re always one step ahead,” she said.
“A few days before Christmas I was called by members of the public who had been out walking and spotted a carcass of a deer. I went to have a look and it was a fallow deer that had had its head and legs chopped off.”
She said she had been called out numerous times to grisly findings of deer legs left strewn on the Chase.
This is because poachers had been spotted in vans and were easier to trace but by cutting off legs, poached carcasses could be put into an ordinary hatchback car.
Ms Burton said: “They cut the legs off to make them smaller and take them away in hatchback cars instead of vans.”
While a drop off is now expected as the festive season comes to an end, Ms Burton urged those in rural areas to remain vigilant and urged those buying venison to check where it comes from.
“We say to anybody buying venison you need to go to a reputable outlet. As soon as you shoot any animal toxins build up very quickly and it’s not good.
“It goes without saying we’ve got a problem because of the recession people are looking for cheap meat.
“Poachers sell it on quite cheap and unfortunately with the times we are in it’s getting worse.”