POLICE are set to pay more attention to an award-winning Barnsley nature reserve after animal traps were found nestled in its undergrowth, sparking fresh concerns over increasing reports of wildlife crime at the town’s beauty spots.

Carlton Marsh was labelled as the ‘jewel in Barnsley’s crown’ by Yorkshire in Bloom judges - who have continually awarded the Shaw Lane site their most prestigious award in recent years.

The reserve has come under the spotlight this week after photos of barbed wire-covered cages emerged.

As well as a flourishing bird population including peregrine falcons, marsh harriers, buzzards and owls, its habitat has been popular with bats, rabbits, voles and roe-deer.

But fears that wildlife crime - a growing concern for police at beauty spots across the borough including Langsett and Range Moor - is on the increase have been allayed by officers this week, who confirmed they will be putting on extra patrols at the site.

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Coun Charlie Wraith said: “We’ve had a lot of antisocial behaviour recently but Carlton Marsh, which is a wonderful place with a fantastic array of wildlife and cared for by a passionate group of volunteers, has always fared quite well.

“People tend to respect wildlife but we need to stop this and make it very much an isolated incident. It’s clearly a very worrying find.

“As far as I’m aware only one trap was found, but I sincerely hope we have not attracted idiotic people who are wanting to destroy Carlton Marsh’s flourishing wildlife population.”

Wire nooses, once triggered, tighten around any captured animal’s body, risking strangulation, wounding and death.

A local conservation organisation, Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors, has waded into the row and told the Chronicle that Barnsley has seen a growing number of cases where ‘jaw-like’ traps have been set to snare native stoats, weasels, badgers and foxes.

They have vowed to work alongside police across the borough - but urged Carlton Marsh’s visitors to keep an eye out and report anything untoward.

“It’s a grim reality that wildlife is being wiped out by traps on some of Barnsley’s most popular moorlands,” spokesman Luke Steele told the Chronicle.

“Walkers are in a unique position to help protect wildlife on the moors where suspected persecution is encountered. This may include finding injured animals in traps or snares, birds of prey which have been shot or individuals simply acting suspiciously.

“We urge those who visit sites to familiarise themselves with the signs of wildlife persecution, then come forward to the police with any incidents.”

Operation Dunlin, which focuses on wildlife-related crime, is a long-running project across South Yorkshire and it is set to return to Barnsley after a previous action day saw more than 50 officers target beauty spots.

However, local officers based in Cudworth have vowed to pay closer attention to Carlton Marsh by way of increased foot patrols during evening hours - a move backed by Coun Wraith.

Assistant Chief Constable David Hartley, force lead for local policing and rural crime, said: “Crimes targeting wildlife such as badger baiting, deer coursing and lamping have a significant impact on rural communities and it is important that we tackle this head on.

“We hope our work reassures our rural communities and shows our commitment to tackling crime and preventing future crimes.”