POLICE will soon be deploying a drone in the fight against rural crime to protect farmers and landowners in Avon and Somerset.

Wildlife Crime Officer PC Stefan Edwards has qualified as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operator, enabling him to pilot the Rural Affairs Unit’s own drone, which can be used to search for stolen machinery and equipment, track illegal hare coursing or poaching and provide help for missing people searches.

It will also be used when carrying out crime reduction advice visits on farms.

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, 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 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."

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.”

An NFU Mutual Report estimated that in 2022, the financial cost of rural was £49.5million across the UK. However, in addition to the devastating economic impact, rural crime can cause lasting psychological trauma for victims and their families.

The force's Rural Affairs Unit works to tackle rural crime in various 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.