Drone technology being used to tackle sheep rustling

Ross Bryant
Ross Bryant

Drone technology is being employed by police during night patrols following the slaughter of sheep on farms. This new move has been seen as the latest move to tackle UK’s worst rural crime wave in seven years.

The killing of 80 animals occurred on farms in Northamptonshire. They were then butchered and sold illegally to restaurants and shops. The use of technology by police investigating is indicative of the way policing is going to tackle these kinds of rural crimes across the country.

“A lot of the crimes have happened in quite remote locations,” said Sgt Sam Dobbs, from Northamptonshire Police. “You physically can’t see from the road what’s going on. The drone can cover such a large area and see such a lot at night with the thermal imaging.”

Drone technology is not the only innovation to be used. Sheep fleeces are also being laced with thousands of coded micro-dots that cannot be removed to combat rustlers who can steal hundreds of animals in a single raid. Tractors are being fitted with geo-fencing, which means they trigger an alarm if they go beyond farm boundaries as farmers attempt to fight organised crime. The criminals are moving in on the countryside to steal vehicles worth more than £50,000 for export abroad.

Infra-red lasers, which send alerts to mobile phones are being used to protect farmyards, and rural police forces have bought drones specifically to track thieves and search the countryside for stolen animals and equipment. Many farmers have also turned the clock back to medieaval times by fortifying their land with ditches, earth banks and even concrete blocks at entrances to foil potential robbers.

Tim Price, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “By combining modern technology with physical fortifications, farmers are trying to keep one step ahead of the thieves.

‘Together with digging ditches and putting up earth banks to prevent criminals getting on to farm land, these electronic devices are proving to be effective weapons in the fight against rural crime.”
Mr Price said: “The last time rural theft reached the current level was in 2011, when international gangs took advantage of a largely unsecured countryside.

‘Today, we are seeing another rise as organised criminal gangs with links to money laundering and drugs find ways to beat security and steal farm vehicles.”

He said one of the most alarming findings was from a survey of its 300 agents which showed country people felt “under siege” from constant reports of thefts, suspicious vehicles touring the countryside and criminals staking out farms.

“Some farmers are so concerned about the risk of criminal attack they can no longer leave the farm with their family to attend local events,” he added. “Repeat attacks are causing widespread anxiety and exacerbating the problems of rural isolation amongst farmers who often work alone all day.”

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