From terrorism to the ‘wild life’

Change of scenery: Mark Thomas, wildlife officer for Lancashire Police
Change of scenery: Mark Thomas, wildlife officer for Lancashire Police

For five years, Mark Thomas was involved in some of the most intensive and secretive undercover police work imaginable.

As a civilian member of a counter-terrorism team, employed directly by the Home Office, he was involved in raids on terrorist targets in Clitheroe and Manchester, as well as taking part in drug raids and seizing computers from suspected sex offenders.

Much of the work he was involved in is so sensitive he is unable to talk about it.

But now Mark, 37, from Leyland, has undergone somewhat of a change in scenery.

For he has just been appointed as Lancashire Police’s new wildlife officer, taking over from PC Duncan Thomas, who held the role for five years and who will now work as a response officer in Longridge.

Now, instead of kicking down suspected dealers’ doors and going undercover for weeks on end, Mark is trying to track down poachers and advising people on the minefield of legislation around bats, newts and other creatures across the county.

But speaking about his new role, he says he is kept busier in the new job than he has ever been.

“The counter-terrorism role was a civilian role, but employed by the Home Office,” he said.

“The county normally has big operations on drug seizures which are given special names like Annie or Nimrod.

“I have been involved in those which obviously involves putting people’s doors in and doing full house searches.

“There was a lot of undercover stuff that I can’t go into.

“It was either steady away or they wanted you there and then and you were away for weeks on end. But the wildlife job is exactly the same because there is a lot of legislation involved.

“I would say I’m busier doing the wildlife job than the counter terrorism role.

“Someone is always ringing you every day.”

Mark, who joined the force 10 years ago as a police special and later put his engineering background to use in the constabulary’s Vehicle Maintenance Unit, says wildlife has always been in his blood.

His mum was a farmer’s daughter in Broughton and he grew up around the farming life.

The difficulty has been speaking to all the contacts involved in the job in such a short space of time, including wildlife groups, shooting groups, Government agencies and so on, and learning the mass of legislation involved.

As well as dealing with calls about suspected poaching, Mark’s new role includes advising people on roosting bats, great crested newts, bird nests and eggs, gathering and distributing intelligence about cross-border crime affecting farmers and dealing with calls about the theft of things like farm machinery and diesel.