Wildlife crime officer Caroline Newsome is the public face of policing that the public loves.
Caroline combines her work as a community PC for Kirkburton and Denby Dale with a dual role as wildlife crime officer for Kirklees, one of around 20 in the West Yorkshire force.
Thousands of people follow Caroline’s exploits on social media every day – and she has more than 11,000 followers on Twitter alone.
There’s always lots of love for Caroline when she shares her passion for animals and wildlife, never more so than when she posts pictures of what she calls her “babies” cute Jack Russell Harvey and fox red Labrador Meg.
But Caroline is a police officer after all and she had to deal with some pretty grim stuff which she’ll share on social media to raise awareness.
“I’ve built up a following on social media and I think I’ve helped make an impact in people getting a better understanding of wildlife crime and also encouraging them to report it to the police,” she said.
“Lots of people don’t know what they come across could be a wildlife crime. In lockdown more people have been out walking in the countryside and they may come across something and take a picture and put it on social media thinking that’s just something which happens in the countryside. That may not be the case. It may be a wildlife crime.”
Caroline, a police officer for 20 years, has always loved animals. She hand-reared pipistrelle bats when she was 20, she’s bred ferrets, had a snake and she also keeps chickens. As a girl her dad taught her to tickle a trout (Google it!)
It’s almost three years since she became wildlife crime officer for Kirklees – and it’s not just about wildlife.
Anyone who follows Caroline on social media will know about her love for badgers and while much of her work involves badger protection her job is about much more than that.
She deals with crimes against raptors – or birds of prey – and helped rescue Kelvin the kestrel who was shot and badly injured; the theft of birds’ eggs from nests – Kirklees has one of the top 20 biggest illegal collectors of eggs in the UK; and also incidents of poaching, hare-coursing and traps and snares.
Though not wildlife as such Caroline deals with sheep worrying and livestock attacks by dogs – more prevalent since the pandemic as more people are out in the countryside with their pets – and dog-on-dog or dog-on-cat domestic attacks.
Illegal taxidermy is also on Caroline’s radar too. Taxidermy laws exist to protect rare or endangered species and a so-called Article 10 certificate could be needed to trade or move on taxidermy.
Caroline recently dealt with a case of a collector who had inadvertently fallen foul of the law. However, he co-operated fully with Caroline’s investigation, items were seized and it was decided prosecution wasn’t in the public interest.
Caroline insists that her job is about more than badger protection but badgers are never far from her thoughts.
“I remember as a kid watching a badger sett and seeing that stripey face poking out. They are just fascinating creatures,” she said.
“Some people say they are vicious and nasty but they are not like that at all. By instinct they are shy and nocturnal and steer clear of humans. The only time they will attack is if they are injured or cornered and there’s no escape.”
Kirklees doesn’t have a particular problem with badger baiting as such though sett digging is becoming a greater concern. The Kirklees Badger Protection Group does great work in monitoring and protecting setts and highlighting any issues.
But when she comes across cruelty and brutality involving badgers Caroline will call it out.
“Maybe I will post a picture of a sett that’s been dug and all that’s left is a pile of earth. But there’s such horror behind that. A badger has been dragged from its bed for blood lust. It’s horrible.”
Caroline recently dealt with a case of a dog reported missing. The animal had horrific facial injuries. It was microchipped and traced to an owner. As a result five Patterdale Terriers, all with injuries consistent with badger baiting, were seized.
Caroline wasn’t able to prove a badger baiting offence but the owner was dealt with under animal welfare legislation because he couldn’t provide evidence he sought veterinary attention.
Only a year into her role as wildlife crime officer Caroline was invited to become joint national enforcement lead with the Badger Persecution Priority Delivery Group, part of the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit.
That’s all about sharing good practice and Caroline also helped compile a Badger Crime Toolkit, a guide for police officers investigating badger persecution.
Caroline believes her role is as much about education as prosecution. Two teenagers were caught on CCTV lighting a fire and innocently digging at a badger sett.
The boys were traced to their school and their parents were horrified when Caroline got in touch. Caroline took the boys back to the sett and spent an hour explaining about the horrors of badger baiting.
“They left far more educated,” said Caroline. “It’s not always about getting a criminal record.”
Caroline is now seen as something of an “oracle” on social media and she has messages from near and far on a range of issues, which she is only too happy to help with.
Local people love what she does and Caroline is humbled to receive gifts from well-wishers and supporters.
Last year Caroline had her portrait painted by Shepley-based artist Nigel Proud as part of an art project to thank keyworkers. A woman who makes trauma teddies for children also knitted her a badger and a nine-year-old boy included her in his school project on the emergency services superimposing a badger’s head on Caroline’s photograph!
And Caroline was thrilled to bits when a colleague even presented her with a Lego mini-figure of herself – complete with a white dog and an orange dog – for her 50th birthday!
“It’s just lovely to receive things like this and there’s been some kind gestures that really bring a lump to my throat,” she said.
Social media isn’t all sweetness and light, however, and Caroline has had some abuse too.
She caused a bit of a storm last year when she took delivery of a new police 4×4 and called it her “badgermobile” on Twitter.
“I do have some negative stuff but it comes with the territory and I don’t let it bother me,” she said.
Caroline will just keep doing what she does – like the time she stopped the traffic to let hedgehogs cross the road.
“I was driving up the road when I saw a hedgehog pootling about,” she said. “I stopped the car and stopped the traffic to let the hedgehogs go by but a taxi driver was really rude demanding to know why I had stopped the traffic.
“Those are the kinds of attitudes I will always keep fighting. What was going through the mind of the taxi driver I don’t know. What’s the alternative, run the hedgehog over?
“This job is my passion and I want to educate people and play a part in trying to protect animals and bring people to justice who are causing them harm.”