PC Stefan Edwards with Andrew Smith, Emily Martin, Jeremy Padfield and Lindsay Isgar of the NFU and NFU Mutual
In National Rural Crime Action Week, Avon and Somerset Police has announced it will soon be deploying a drone to assist its Rural Affairs Unit in catching criminals and to provide extra protection for farmers and landowners across the region.
Wildlife Crime Officer, PC Stefan Edwards, has recently qualified as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operator, enabling him to pilot the Rural Affairs Unit’s own drone. The drone can be used to search for stolen machinery and equipment, track illegal hare coursing or poaching and could also provide help for missing person searches.
The drone will also be used when carrying out crime reduction visits on farms. This is when the Rural Affairs Unit visits a farm to provide advice on crime prevention, highlighting any potential weaknesses or blind spots as well as hearing concerns from farmers.
Police Superintendent Richard Turner, Somerset Commander for Avon and Somerset Police, said,
“Adding the drone to our Rural Affairs Unit toolkit is something we are really excited about. Our team have been working hard to tackle rural crime across the region and this will add an innovative new tactic for them to catch criminals, to deter them from committing crimes in the first place, and to enhance our farm crime prevention surveys. This is especially important as we seeing these rural crimes increasingly linked to wider organised crime.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without PC Edwards’ passion for serving the rural community. He has been determined to get his qualification and to get that drone up in the air. When we have mentioned introducing the drone, the initial reaction from farmers and landowners has been very enthusiastic.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Shelford, said,
“I’m very pleased to hear about this innovative and exciting way the Rural Affairs Unit is working to take a preventative approach to tackling rural crimes such as poaching, hare coursing and machinery theft.
“My police and crime plan pivots on ensuring that our police service in Avon and Somerset is focused on prevention and supporting vulnerable communities, such as residents living in isolated rural areas.
“The use of drones to deter, detect and catch organised criminals targeting rural communities is a fantastic example of a proactive approach to policing and supporting communities whose livelihoods and homes are badly impacted when they become victims of these crimes.”
This week is National Rural Crime Action Week and Avon and Somerset Police are highlighting the impact of rural crime and demonstrating some of the tactics being employed to reduce it across the region. The Rural Affairs Unit has been engaging with the farming community at a number of events throughout the week, including at Sedgemoor Auction Centre, Frome Agriculture Market and Landowners Day near Yeovilton.
Rural crime refers to offences that occur in a rural area which directly or indirectly affects a farming rural business or rural communities. Common rural crimes include theft of farm vehicles and machinery, theft of livestock, poaching and hare coursing. Organised Crime Groups are behind many of these illegal activities.
An NFU Mutual Report estimated that in 2022, the financial cost of rural was £49.5 million across the UK. However, in addition to the devastating economic impact, rural crime can cause lasting psychological trauma for victims and their families.
Avon and Somerset’s Rural Affairs Unit works to tackle rural crime in a variety of ways, including supporting farmers with crime reduction visits, security marking trailers and equipment, close partnership working, visible patrols, intelligence-led policing, recovering, and returning stolen machinery and much more.
Farm Watch is a group where members receive alerts and updates of rural crime within their area. This not only raises vigilance within the farming community but also allows farmers to feedback intelligence and crucial information concerning such activity. To find out more and apply to join Farm Watch, visit www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/apply/farm-watch
Similarly, the Rural Affairs Unit also runs Horse Watch, which is a group for the equine community. To find out more, visit https://www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/apply/horse-watch/