Police have dealt a blow to gangs who were terrorising Oxfordshire farmers by ramming cars into rabbits and deer for kicks.

Up to a dozen people have been arrested for offences related to trespass, criminal damage and the illegal killing of animals following the largest Thames Valley Police operation against rural crime of its kind.

Helicopters, dogs and officers from across the county were involved in the three-month crackdown against groups of men who drove into remote parts of the county at night for the fun of killing wild animals.

The so-called ‘lampers’ used lamps to stun deer and rabbits before mowing the animals down with four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Rabbits and hare corpses were generally taken away to be sold or eaten, but deer were often left, as carcasses need to be disembowelled on the spot to make them fit to eat.

‘Lamping’, as well as theft of equipment and farm dogs, damage to crops and hare coarsing, has plagued rural residents for years, according farmers in the south of the county.

One farmer, who would not be named for fear of reprisals, said since police “swung into action” last year there had been a notable reduction in incidents.

The farmer, who has lived in south Oxfordshire for 50 years, said: “In the past the response from police has been at best limited and at worst zero.

“But officers have now got the bit between their teeth, and I’m convinced they are now taking this seriously and are doing the best they can.

“The criminals do it because they think it is great fun. And they have always got an eye on property worth stealing, while chasing a bunny or two.

“They often look over the farm gate for quad bikes, chainsaws or even for dogs, so they can steal them.”

Supt Amanda Pearson, of Thames Valley Police, ordered the crackdown on rural crime after being appointed south Oxfordshire area commander in October last year.

She admitted the community had, in the past, lacked confidence in the police’s response to reports of crime.

But she said: “Since November, we have had between eight to 12 arrests, and have seized vehicles. So the message is getting through.

“We can’t maintain resources as we have done, but if we start feeling the temperature rise we can start putting people back.

“This criminal activity is absolutely unacceptable behaviour and we will treat it seriously, and do something about it.”

The ‘lamping’ problem was raised in the House of Commons last week by Henley MP John Howell.

Mr Howell condemned the “mindless destruction” of property and animal life.

He said: “They drive into fields in vans or cars with bull bumpers, run down deer or sheep, and, without any consideration whatever, leave them maimed, to die in agony.”

He added later: “This is not poaching. It’s just mindless and perverse.”