CRIMINALS planning to target rural areas have been warned that East Lancashire is no soft touch by the man tasked with overseeing wildlife investigations in the area.

Sgt Damian Pemberton, 43, said the force had already trained wildlife officers and invested in specialist equipment to ensure rural areas get the same level of service as people living in urban areas, and is looking to do more of the same.

It is also looking to expand the work of volunteers to ensure residents don’t feel isolated.

Sgt Pemberton, who combines his role as neighbourhood policing sergeant for Brierfield, Reedley and Barrowford with being the supervision central point of contact for other wildlife officers in East Lancashire, said: “Over the last year or two we have made some real improvement. A local priority for Lancashire Police now is rural policing, wildlife crime and heritage crime.

“In the last couple of years the force has started investing in a lot more officers becoming wildlife officers and a lot more officers becoming specialist wildlife officers. Those roles are carried out alongside their day-to-day jobs in the police. The majority of wildlife officers are local policing officers and PCSOs.

“Lancashire as a county is approximately 2,000 square miles. Nearly three-quarters of Lancashire is classed as rural. East division is 500 square miles and approximately 330 square miles is rural. We have got massive rural areas and these are the communities we need to be focussing on, not just the built-up urban areas.

“It is a different style of policing and a different approach to how you deal with rural communities. Rural communities are sometimes out of the way and feel quite detached from the police and more urban areas.

“The vast majority of the work we do is engagement and how we deliver a service once we have engaged with people.

“We use a number of initiatives. That is good old-fashioned getting out and about. We also have to allow officers time to get out and about and engage with communities.

“A key part is building up a key individual network. We need to compile data of who lives where and we need officers to speak to farmers who are isolated out on their own. So if something does happen they know they are not on their own and they have got someone they can contact.

“We have recently taken delivery of a dedicated rural policing vehicle. It will be out across East Lancashire patrolling rural areas and communities.”

Sgt Pemberton said that in recent weeks the force had been working alongside the RSPCA and Lancashire Trading Standards to target a local organised criminal group actively involved in committing rural crime and wildlife crime, including deer poaching and badger persecution. That has led to a number of arrests.

Talking about the future, Sgt Pemberton, who has been a police officer for 18 years, said: “My message to those intent on committing criminal offences is ‘don’t think for one minute that a rural area is an easy target’. We are putting a lot of effort and a lot of energy as a police force to ensure we’re building up strong links and strong intelligence within the rural communities.

“We have always had rural police officers who cover certain areas, We have always had a really good relationship with rural communities. People in general think the rural areas are overlooked. Not by the police, but society in general. Police resources are more often than not concentrated on urban areas. There might be some myth we completely ignore the rural areas, which is not true. We’re really investing a lot in training dedicated wildlife officers and investing in specialist equipment so we can get out there and offer the same service in rural areas as we do in the urban areas.

“We are looking to train more wildlife officers as a force, We’re looking to place these wildlife officers within the neighbourhoods and communities where if called upon for a wildlife job they can be deployed. My bosses will afford us any time and resources we need to tackle these jobs. Whether it is dangerous dogs, deer poaching, badger persecution, hare coursing, bat persecution, raptor persecution, we have a duty of care to animals, similar to people.”

Over the last 12 months officers in the Ribble Valley have set up a rural mounted volunteers scheme, which has now been rolled out in Pendle. Volunteers are given special training in riding their horse safely on roads and equipment and become police volunteers. Sgt Pemberton said their job is to have a visible presence for the police, engage with the rural community and gather and collate intelligence. So far 30 people have signed up to the scheme.