A NEW wildlife officer has been appointed by Avon and Somerset Police to tackle wildlife crime across Somerset.

PC Pete Wills, a former Burnham-on-Sea community beat manager, has taken on the role after 22 years with the force.

He started in his new role just a month ago and is supported by five officers that are also trained to advise on wildlife crime.

PC Wills will be investigating and cracking down on wildlife crime - any action which breaks the law regarding protection of the UK’s wild animals and plants.

He said: “I was brought up on the Somerset Levels by two very keen walkers and conservationists, so I naturally fell into it and carried on with this lifestyle into adulthood.

"I have been a voluntary Wildlife Crime Officer for 14 years, helping to investigate or advise other officers, so this is a natural progression for me.

"I’m really pleased to be given this opportunity and I am excited about to being in a role where I am guaranteed to get my boots dirty."

From getting training on animal handling from Bristol Zoo, to investigating wildlife offences against badgers, slow worms and newts, PC Wills has had a busy first month in his new role.

He has met with hunt monitor groups and hunt masters to open discussions and has been working with various partner organisations such as Exmoor Rangers, National Trust and Environment Agency.

He has also started to bring together a network of local volunteers to help with his work.

"Wildlife crime is generally underreported, so a big part of my role is about raising the profile," PC Wills said.

"Wildlife crime can be difficult to solve, as much of it occurs in remote locations where there are limited witnesses.

"We get all sorts of crimes reported to us, from badger act offences, to water vowels and bats, as well as illegal hunting and poaching.

"I have looked at ivory importation to our area and we have previously investigated bird egg and butterfly collectors. It’s not just about animals though, as flora and fauna are protected too.

In December PC Wills attended the National Wildlife Crime Enforcers Conference in Milton Keynes to learn about best practice in different parts of the country and see what could be adopted within Avon and Somerset.

He said he hopes to build good working relationships with key partners to keep Somerset's wildlife safe.

PC Wills added: “I obviously can’t do this all by myself, but I know there is a sea of people and agencies in the region that will be able to help me along the way.

"I hope to build a good working relationship with many of the key partners to help enhance the force’s wildlife portfolio. I then hope to be able feed it all into the National Wildlife crime picture.”

You can follow the work of PC Wills and the Rural Crime Team on Twitter via @ASPRuralCrime and Facebook at ‘Rural Crime Avon and Somerset Police’.

For more information about wildlife crime visit www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/report/wildlife-crime/.