POLICE will soon be using a drone to assist their rural affairs unit in catching criminals and to provide extra protection for farmers and landowners across the area.

Avon and Somerset Constabulary made the announcement as part of National Rural Crime Action Week.

Wildlife crime officer PC Stefan Edwards has recently qualified as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operator, allowing him to pilot the force’s rural affairs unit’s (RAU) own drone.

The drone can be used for tasks such as searching for stolen machinery and equipment, tracking illegal hare coursing or poaching, and could also provide help in missing person searches.

It will also be used when carrying out crime reduction visits on farms, which is when the unit visits a farm to provide advice on crime prevention, highlighting any potential weaknesses or blind spots as well as hearing concerns of farmers.

Police Somerset commander Supt Richard Turner 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, but to also deter them from committing a crime in the first place, especially as we are seeing these rural crimes increasingly linked to wider organised crime.

“This would not 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 am 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.”

As part of National Rural Crime Action Week, the force has been highlighting the impact of rural crime and demonstrating some of the tactics being employed to reduce it across the region.

The RAU 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.

Common rural crimes include theft of farm vehicles and machinery, theft of livestock, poaching, and hare coursing.

Organised Crime Groups are said to be behind many of the illegal activities.

An NFU Mutual report estimated the financial cost of rural crime in 2022 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.

The RAU 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 more.

Farm Watch is a group where members receive alerts and updates of rural crime within their area to not only raise vigilance within the farming community but also to allow farmers to feedback intelligence and crucial information.

To find out more and apply to join Farm Watch visit its website.

Similarly, the RAU also runs Horse Watch, which is a group for the equine community, more information about which is here.