ARMED police have their sights set on a new target - deer poachers.

Lancashire Police, in conjunction with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), is holding intensive training sessions for police officers to combat the problem.

The aim of the scheme, which comes as the British Deer Association launches an anti-poaching initiative, is to enable officers to target gangs who are preying on wild deer, particularly in the Ribble Valley.

Stag carcasses can fetch up to £150, making them profitable for poachers who attempt to sell them to unscrupulous pub and restaurant owners.

Lancashire Police's dedicated wildlife officer, PC Duncan Thomas, said: "Wildlife crime and issues such as deer poaching are just as serious as other criminality and are usually carried out by serious and organised crime groups.

"Poaching, specifically deer poaching, is a significant problem in Lancashire.

"One of the key issues is that the criminal gangs engaged in this activity are highly mobile and operate across force boundaries."

The training undertaken by armed response officers saw them taking part in weekly sessions with wildlife officers in a bid to show them what to look for when they are tracking poachers.

The course involved classroom sessions and demonstrations about how to look for poacher tracks and how to use sniffer dogs to find where the deer - and the poachers - could be.

Mr Thomas added: "BASC has provided experience and have been extremely helpful, both in the planning and delivery of this course.

"The problem is not just related to poaching, these gangs are committing the full range of rural crime."

The British Deer Society has a network of Deer Management Groups throughout the UK, the one in South Lakeland liases with those in Lancashire in a bid to combat poaching.

Peter Robson of South Lakeland DMG said: "A lot of the poachers are active in the area so we are trying to increase awareness and hope people report incidents and try and get registration numbers of vehicles involved."