Dorset police chiefs have hit back after critics queried their commitment to tackling wildlife crime.

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner David Sidwick and Chief Constable Scott Chilton issued statements yesterday (Wednesday, April 27) to refute claims that wildlife crime is no longer a priority for them - and that the force has not been politicised.

A row has been brewing since a white-tailed sea eagle was found dead in late January on a shooting estate in an undisclosed location in North Dorset.

Commonly known as 'flying barn doors' due to their two-metre wingspan, these birds of prey are one of the largest - and rarest - birds in the UK.

The sea eagle found dead was part of a reintroduction programme on the Isle of Wight.

READ MORE: Rare 'flying barn door' eagle found dead in Dorset

At the time, Dorset Police confirmed that it was part of a multi-agency investigation into the death.

Controversially, Chris Loder, MP for West Dorset (Conservative), took to Twitter to condemn the investigation, writing: "Dorset is not the place for eagles to be reintroduced.

"I’m not challenging government for more money for Dorset so it goes on this.

"I don’t condone this at all, but I want Dorset Police to focus on county lines rather than spend time and resources on this."

The Dorset Police Rural Crime Team replied to the MP: "We are a specialist small team of three PCs focusing on rural organised crime targeting farms and plant, organised crime gangs, wildlife crime and heritage crime.

"In my 17 years service I've not claimed any time for 1000s hours of staying on or on my days off to deal with wildlife cases.

"A sergeant totted up all my unclaimed hours in last few years - £25,000. Didn't claim a penny.

"I've run courses for staff in house saving thousands.

"Some past raptor cases in UK had insecure loaded firearms located.

"Insecure firearms can and have been stolen and used in crime."

However, on March 29, the force announced that it had ended its investigation - despite the sea eagle having seven times the amount of poison in its body than needed to kill it.

In spite of the high levels of the rodenticide brodifacoum, the police stated that they "could not confirm if any criminal offence had been committed".

At the time the RSPB said it was "baffled" at the police's reaction to what it called "an illegal act".

READ MORE: Sea eagle had SEVEN times lethal dose of poison (but police end investigation)

Katie-Jo Luxton, RSPB Global Conservation Director: “We are completely baffled by the decision taken by Dorset Police to end the white-tailed eagle investigation so prematurely.

"Brodifacoum – the rodent poison that killed the eagle – is highly toxic and it is clear that it was being used either incompetently or with intent to kill raptors.

"Either way, this is an illegal act."

Shortly after that the name of the county's wildlife crime team was changed to Rural Crime Team.

This has prompted accusations in the media of politicisation of the force and even of protection of the landowner that owns the shooting estate the poisoned sea-eagle was found on.

Yesterday Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner David Sidwick issued a statement to "set the record straight".

In his statement he wrote: "With regard to the tragic death of the sea eagle, I clearly publicly supported the Rural Crime Team in their decision to carry out a full and thorough police investigation – this was contrary to the position that was first expressed by the MP for West Dorset and I have continued to support such investigations taking place.

"The suggestion that this investigation was somehow politically impeded is therefore bizarre and entirely without merit."

In his statement, Chief Constable Scott Chilton says that the dropping of 'wildlife' in the rural crime team's name is simply a name change.

He wrote: "Dorset Police remains committed to catching those responsible for the abhorrent instances of wildlife crime that currently take place in our beautiful county.

"We also remain committed to stamping out all other instances of crime that affect those living in rural areas.

"With this in mind we have reviewed our rural crime strategy for the county and have invested in our Rural Crime Team, allocating additional officers to tackle all aspects of rural, wildlife and heritage-related crime in Dorset.

"The name change to the Rural Crime Team simply reflects this additional focus.

"I want to make it clear that Dorset Police continues to take any and all potential wildlife offences seriously and will act to prevent and detect offences wherever possible."