green and white tractor on green grass field during daytime
Photo by Chris Ensminger on Unsplash

A Labour Government will be focused on five missions, one of which is to ensure that people can live in safe communities, another to secure high economic growth. Theft from farming communities can have a devastating impact, not just on families and individuals but on their businesses too.

Take cow rustling for example. The rising price of meat combined with the cost-of-living crisis makes livestock theft increasingly attractive to organised criminals. We saw a herd of 14 cows stolen from an Anglesey farm in December. Many farmers have an emotional attachment to their livestock which many people outside rural communities probably won’t instinctively be aware of, and the loss of much-loved animals can be emotionally devastating. But it’s also a family’s livelihood that is at stake – the herd was valued at £20,000.

The distances and the nature of farming we deal with in North Wales can leave communities very vulnerable to criminals. A farmer may not realise they’ve lost a herd if the theft is at night, and by the time the police can get there, the thieves can be long gone. In this instance I’m proud of the way our Rural Crime Team approached the issue, working closely with our Drone Unit and officers from other forces. Following two police raids in farms in Stoke-on-Trent in April arrests were made. Our Rural Crime Team celebrates its 10th birthday this year and was the first of its kind in the UK. It has an invaluable place in the Force’s operations and its officers and staff have become a respected and valued support to our farming community.

The lack of internet infrastructure and the lack of awareness of cybercrime can also be issues for rural communities, and we are trying hard to overcome these challenges. With support from the Welsh Government, we’re seeking to trial LoRaWAN (Low Power Long Range Wide Area Access Network). Many will be familiar with doorbells linked to an app which are fast becoming ubiquitous in some urban areas, but these solutions simply aren’t possible in much of North Wales. LoRaWAN works on a similar basis, but it has a significantly better reach than normal Wi-Fi. Small antenna can be attached to farm buildings, which collect and relay data to dashboards on mobile phones; these can then alert farmers if anything is stolen.

We’re also engaging with farming communities to show how vulnerable they can be to cyber-crime and to organised criminals using social media. At a recent event supported by the NUF, FUW (Farmer’s Union of Wales) and Tir Dewi, an organisation which offers support to Farmers in Wales, we showed farmers how easy it can be for criminals to focus on images on social media of a new tractor (a popular internet search in some circles I understand) or other type of machinery, which they can use to locate and try to steal the equipment. Other scams can involve fake emails from supposed suppliers asking farmers to pay into a new account.

We are also encouraging farmers to make much greater use of SmartWater DNA marking to protect farm equipment. Applied and registered with a national register, SmartWater allows stolen equipment and machinery to be linked to the owner. It’s proven to be incredibly effective when it comes to prosecution, but also a deterrent to thefts in the first place. Our Rural Crime Team have developed a specific Rural Crime Prevention Pack where we provide farmers and rural business with SmartWater forensic marking, robust deterrent signage, and tailored crime prevention advice.

This use of SmartWater technology and the distribution of prevention packs is part of the Force’s new ‘We Don’t Buy Crime’ initiative, which I fully support. Rural communities are a key focus for us as part of this roll-out and over the coming years we aim to distribute packs to every farm in North Wales.

A Rural Crime Team PCSO, supported by other PCSOs in all the Force areas will visit communities across North Wales to advise on the best way to keep property safe and secure; encourage them to mark property with SmartWater invisible forensic technology; and display signs throughout Safer Neighbourhood areas, stating that property is securely protected with forensic technology.

Key then to a lot of our work to cut rural crime is working with communities to build their resilience. In that sense, it’s a co-operative approach, working with them to make them less attractive targets for organised criminal gangs and avoid the pitfalls of cyber criminals.

The more police, farming unions, the agricultural community, and residents of rural areas work together to stop rural and wildlife crime, the more effective we will be, and the sooner we can help put an end to these types of offences.

I am deeply committed to our rural communities across North Wales. They are vital for our economy, for our wellbeing, and for our unique language and culture – both its heritage and its future.

Our approach needs to be backed by resources of course, and specialised teams like our Rural Crime Unit. I’m intent on making it my mission to deliver safe rural communities in North Wales.