THIS month marks the 10th anniversary of the North Wales Police Rural Crime Team – the first dedicated team of its kind in the UK.
And as part of Rural Crime Week 2023, we are putting the work of the team in the spotlight to highlight their achievements and successes over the past decade.
Officially launched on September 3rd, 2013 by former North Wales Police Sergeant Rob Taylor, the team was set up at the instigation of the first North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Winston Roddick, who made a promise to form a specialist team of officers to tackle rural issues.
As well as developing an invaluable knowledge of rural communities, strengthening trust and confidence locally and making sure rural crime is less attractive for criminals, the team has led the way for the past decade in ensuring less urban areas have the best police service possible.
They have expanded from tackling in the main, farm and wildlife crime, to incidents of heritage crime, cockling, habitat destruction, poaching and illegal waste tipping – all of which is made possible through their partnership working with the farming unions, Natural Resource Wales, and organisations including the RSPCA and RSPB.
Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman said: “Congratulations to our Rural Crime Team for reaching their 10-year milestone.
“Their dedicated work over the past decade has ensured less urban areas have the best police service possible, bringing our force and rural and agricultural communities closer than ever before.
“They have made some incredible contributions in fighting rural crime, and through their work, North Wales has gained a national reputation for delivering an excellent service.
“There is plenty more scope for the team for the future, who are an invaluable part of the force.”
Former Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales, Winston Roddick, added: “Founding the Rural Crime Team as the first of its kind in the UK, was one of my proudest achievements as Police and Crime Commissioner.
“It acknowledged the considerable importance of rural communities to Wales’ economy and that those communities are just as entitled to effective policing as its urban communities. We had listened to the voice of those communities and their farming unions.
“It is a development that has since been emulated elsewhere across the country and indeed internationally.
“The importance of having a dedicated team that responds to the unique circumstances and features of rural crime cannot be overstated. This is all the more important in an area like North Wales where our rural communities are also heartlands of our language and unique culture and heritage.
“I have been delighted to see the evolution and increasing profile of the Rural Crime Team over the past 10 years and how its engagement with our rural communities has grown and flourished as the years have progressed.”
Within 16 months of launching, rural crime in North Wales fell by 50% and the team had secured two convictions as part of Operation Bayleaf, an investigation into a group who had attempted to injure and kill badgers from a sett in Holywell, Flintshire.
A few years later, in 2018, they successfully brought another case to court, resulting in the conviction of three men and a teenager following a joint operation with the RSPCA into the systematic fighting of dogs and a badger at a farm in Blaenau Ffestiniog.
PC David Allen, who began with the team 10 years ago, said: “I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved in the past decade, including how a many other forces across the UK have adopted our model and made a success of it in their own rural areas.
“One of the most important things I’ve learnt over the years is that the greatest gift to rural areas is time. A lot of areas are very isolated and contact with other people isn’t something that happens every day. Communication and contact are important, and I really feel we have built the trust and confidence back within our farming community that was lost before the team was established, and that is invaluable in tackling rural crime.
“Every year, rural crime costs millions of pounds and causes untold anxiety to farmers and rural businesses. I am proud of the work we have done, and continue to do, in making sure that rural crime is less attractive for those up to no good in North Wales.
“Illegal activity will be punished no matter how remote the location and our efforts and determination will continue to make North Wales a safer place for us all.”
Through their achievements, the team gained an international social media following as far as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as worldwide reputation for delivering an excellent rural service.
In 2015, Superintendent Alistair Harkness from the Victoria police force in Australia travelled halfway around the world to see how rural crime was being tackled in North Wales, while the team had also built a relationship with rural crime officers from New Zealand, whose work appeared to be very similar to that in North Wales.
The team have also made several appearances on TV over the years, including the series Countryside Cops on BBC1 that gave an insight into the team’s day to day work, and the hit children’s series on S4C, Dewi a’r Ditectifs Gwyllt, which saw children turn rural crime detectives alongside former rural crime PC Dewi Evans. An investigation into the theft of apples and plums in the Conwy Valley also found its way onto BBC2’s ‘Russell Howard’s Good News’ series in 2016.
The benefits of their social media platform also helped the team raise awareness of serious rural issues, including mental health awareness and livestock attacks.
With the farming community having one of the highest rates of suicide in the UK, mental health is another important focus of the team, who are trained to help signpost members of the farming community to charities and organisations have worked closely with Tir Dewi, RABI and the DJP Foundation, who offer support and help to farmers.
PCSO Iwan Owen said: “Isolation and loneliness plays a big part in rural life. There can be days or even weeks when people don’t see anybody at all, and times can be tough.
“Farming is a highly demanding job, there is no salary promised at the end of every month, equipment is very expensive, and prices are constantly fluctuating.
“Mental health is a big concern among the farming community and often, the rural crime team are the first people to come across this by visiting them. A lot of our time is spent spending time within rural communities to ensure they know we are there, and there is help out there.”
In recent years, the Rural Crime Team were also involved in a pioneering collaboration with a forensic research team, providing invaluable support to future livestock attack investigations.
Officers united with scientists at Liverpool John Moores University to implement a DNA-based investigation process to identify dogs suspected to have committed attacks.
PC Allen, and National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Secretary for Livestock Offences added: “On average in North Wales there are around 120 dog attacks on livestock per year. Most of these are committed by dogs that have escaped from their homes and many of these incidents involve attacks on sheep.
“Farmers lose thousands of pounds of their livelihood after becoming a victim of a livestock attack.
“It’s hoped that new DNA powers and forensic techniques being researched will allow for a direct comparison with a crime scene and a dog that may have been for example witnessed leaving the scene.”
Their latest ongoing work includes the We Don’t Buy Crime initiative, in which the team are working closely with local farmers who are being offered the latest crime prevention advice and methods, including Smartwater security kits, which are used to forensically mark equipment and property to prevent theft.
Officers will visit every farm in North Wales and all the farmer’s markets to promote this initiative over the next three years. The mammoth task will be undertaken by the team, which will hopefully deter thieves from visiting and targeting farms and our rural communities.
Sergeant Peter Evans, who joined the team in 2022, said: “When I first took over the, I quickly discovered the passion and pride within the team in dealing with rural crime, and I could see how officers genuinely want to make a difference.
“Today, we have a lot of excellent work ongoing to protect rural communities, deter theft, identify criminals and keep crime numbers as low as possible.
“Visibility and close engagement will always be one of the most important parts of our job, and with our new dedicated rural crime engagement van, we will be able to continue to ensure policing is brought closer to home for those in rural areas.
“It’s a pleasure to be leading the Rural Crime Team as we mark this special milestone.”
Wales Rural & Wildlife Police Crime Coordinator, Rob Taylor, former North Wales Police Rural Crime Team Sergeant said: “I could never have imagined the impact this small team would have when we originally launched in September 2013.
“With prosecution after prosecution following for both rural and wildlife offences, the team has created a newfound confidence within our farming communities as a result of the service they have provided.
“Over the years, we witnessed stolen quad bikes being recovered, organised crime gangs disrupted, badger baiters arrested and a new emergence of interest due to the high social media footprint we had created.
“Other policing areas across the UK took note of the team’s successes, and what followed over the years were the formation of other similar dedicated rural police teams, who have witnessed similar impacts and successes.
“How time has flown, and now ten years on, Wales’ approach to wildlife and rural crime fighting is the envy of many across the UK, with dedicated teams, a rural coordinator and a new all Wales wildlife and rural strategy to continue our fight against criminality in the Welsh countryside.
“I’m proud that North Wales Police took the lead and trusted me with the responsibility, but the credit goes to the dedication and hard work of the team and those who have provided the valuable support needed to make this the success that it is.”