IT'S safe to say that people living in rural communities face varying and differing challenges in comparison with those who live in more urban areas.

They have unfortunately attracted the attention of criminals that prey on the vulnerability of rural locations. Farms in particular are subject to all types of crimes including machinery, tool and livestock theft.

I have been working closely with Gwent Police to help address these issues and my Deputy was recently invited to speak at the National Rural Crime Seminar to highlight how the Force has successfully re-engaged with our rural communities and reduced farm related crime by 27 per cent.

During public meetings I attended in 2013, people from rural communities often raised their concerns that there was no specific point of contact within Gwent Police who could provide specialist help or advice on specific farm or rural related crime. Analysis also showed that valuable intelligence from farmers wasn’t being tapped into.

In 2013, Gwent Police appointed CSO Allan Mills as a dedicated Farm Watch Coordinator to re-engage with farmers and help protect our rural communities from crime. A fresh approach was applied and Allan set out to properly engage with farmers and rural victims on a daily basis and provide them with essential prevention advice and support. He began working more effectively with partners such as farming unions and aimed to increase membership of the online Farm Watch scheme on OWL (Online Watch Link) which I fund and support.

The results are impressive and speak for themselves. Online Farm Watch membership increased from 300 to nearly 1,000 members in just one year and intelligence gained from the public via Farm Watch has helped Gwent Police to catch a series of criminals involved in firearms crimes, crimes against animals to the theft of farm machinery, fuel and metal.

In 2014, Gwent hosted the NATO Summit and Allan Mills was integral to the planning as a rural tactical advisor. He liaised with the local council, security organisations and heritage groups to prevent miles of security fencing disturbing protected historical sites. His intelligence also helped in the case against a farmer sentenced to four years for slavery last year.

More recently, I have provided funding and support to help establish the National Rural Crime Network, a new online network which aims to act as a collaborative think tank to tackle rural crime in England and Wales. Gwent Police has already been held up as a model of best practice by the network.

The Farm Watch scheme has been recognised nationally, winning awards such as NFU Mutual Rural Crime Fighters award 2014. Recent surveys have shown an increased satisfaction with the police and the scheme.

In a nutshell, Farm Watch provides us with another valuable weapon in our arsenal to tackle rural crime and it’s a perfect example of how engaging with and communicating directly with our communities can help bring criminals to justice.

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