WILD animals being mutilated, farmers threatened, hay barrels sent up in flames, and thousands of pounds worth of equipment stolen – the reality of rural crime in Dorset is shocking.

Behind these crimes are the same ‘significant players’ and ‘organised crime groups’, according to Dorset Police’s Rural Crime Team.

The specialist unit was formed in 2016 but increased in size through an uplift in 2021.

The investment has allowed officers to work closely with the region’s farmers, who face thefts, hare coursing, poaching and criminal damage on their lands.

PC Sebastian Haggett of the Rural Crime Team said that criminals often “intimidate” farmers so they do not report crime.

He said that in one grisly case, a dead animal was left on a farmer’s door as a threat.

Salisbury Journal: Farmland in the Sixpenny Handley areaFarmland in the Sixpenny Handley area (Image: NQ)

Rural crime officers also referred to Dorset incidents where a deer was beaten to death with a baseball bat, and a dog was live streamed tearing apart a hare.

PC Haggett said: “The people that are coming to the farm are all linked. The people that are stealing machinery, are the same people that are coming to the farm and killing animals.

“There is a fear that if it is reported, they will come back and do more."

The Journal's sister paper the Daily Echo joined PC Haggett and PCSO Chris Mullens to visit a farmer in the Sixpenny Handley area.

The farmer, like many others, is part of a WhatsApp group used to flag poachers or criminals.

He said that at present, it goes off with messages "every night”.

Salisbury Journal: Dorset's Police and Crime Commissioner David Sidwick with the Rural Crime TeamDorset's Police and Crime Commissioner David Sidwick with the Rural Crime Team (Image: NQ)

The farmer, who wished to remain unnamed, added: “It’s been happening for years, and it’s always going to happen. It’s like a tradition to these people.

“They don’t seem to worry about you. They drive through your field and will happily switch their lights off and smash into the side of you.

“They can cause a lot of damage. Around five years ago, another estate had a lot of hassle. The farmers told them to get off and then they set their straw pile on fire.”

Since the boost to the rural crime unit, officers have been able to carry out regular patrols visiting farmers affected by the crimes.

The farmer said the team had “definitely helped” with the issue, adding that last year was “constant" with "catapulting, running over deer and sheep, and poaching.”