A police boss is warning farmers in North Wales to be vigilant as criminals take advantage of an easing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
The end of the ban on non-essential journeys of more than five miles added to the opening up of the border to tourists is expected to provide cover for the thieves who prey on the countryside, according to the region’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Arfon Jones.
North Wales Police already has a crack Rural Crime Team which is acknowledged as one of the best in the UK and they have an enviable record in fighting countryside crime including reducing wildlife offences by 90 per cent over the past 12 years.
Commissioner Jones, a former police inspector who was brought up on a farm near Harlech, has been a champion of the team and last year increased its numbers to 11.
But he sees an increased threat as travel restrictions ease and he said: “Just like everyone else the criminals have been under lockdown but they can’t apply to be furloughed.
“They will be keen to get back to work now that the roads are busier again and the increased number of people moving about in the countryside provides cover for them.
“Our Rural Crime Team does a fantastic job and is the envy of the UK countryside and I know they’ll remain vigilant but we all need to help them and ourselves by being aware and being careful.
“North Wales is a huge rural area and we have been successful in fighting crimes ranging from rustling and the theft of vehicles and machinery to wildlife crime like badger-baiting and egg-stealing but we can’t and won’t relax and neither must people living in the countryside.”
Mr Jones boosted the numbers of the Rural Crime Team to 11 last year and it is headed by Team Manager and former Police Sergeant Rob Taylor who also runs the Dyfed-Powys team.
Rob Taylor said: “From day one of lockdown our team have been out patrolling our rural areas seven days a week.
“We did see an initial drop in reported rural offences and that was mainly due to less traffic on our roads and less opportunities for criminals to travel.
“We are now seeing a slight increase in reported offences so we are reminding the public to remain vigilant and to stay on top of your security.
“If you have alarms or CCTV then check them over and make sure they are working correctly and in the meantime we will continue to be out and about providing rural patrols and reassurance.”
The Team use a mix of old-fashioned policing and modern technology such as Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras, DNA profiling and intelligence-led targeting rural crime hotspots.
They use go-anywhere four-wheel drive vehicles fitted with dash-cams and team members are equipped with laptops so they can write up reports on the road and have instant access to information.
They also work closely with organisations like the Farmers’ Union of Wales, National Farmers’ Union, British Association of Shooting and Conservation and the Country Landowners’ Association.
Arfon Jones added: “We have been very successful in targeting the criminals committing a range of crimes from badger baiting to stealing tractors, quad bikes and livestock.
“North Wales is leading the way and the team led by Rob Taylor is doing a fantastic job and being recognised for the way they are dealing with rural crime and wildlife issues but it is vital to continue to support them.
“They have also been integral to the formation of similar teams in Dyfed-Powys, with whom we work very closely, and in Gwent.”
“It’s important that we are not just reactive but that we are also proactive so that we can stop rural crime taking place before it happens.
“Our rural areas are geographically very large so we need technology to help us in our fight against countryside crime and to catch to offenders.”