A groundbreaking policing scheme designed to tackle rural crime and funded by private landowners has been unveiled today.
Renfrewshire Rural Watch, an independent crimewatch group consisting of farmers, land managers and rural businesses, was formed after a group of land owners and residents in the area decided that they wanted to do something to stem the persistent rise in rural crime.
They are supported by Police Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates and Scottish Countryside Alliance. Together the group is designed to make rural Renfrewshire secure against illegal activity such as theft, wildlife crime, crimes against animals and environmental crime by creating a network of people who can then share information and report suspicious activity to police.
The initiative is being funded by Elderslie Estates and has also received sponsorship from insurance broker Lycetts which has enabled the team to create Rural Watch signs which will be displayed on roads, farm gates, steadings and road ends which will both publicise the scheme whilst also deterring criminals.
The new initiative will also see the introduction of two dedicated rural policing officers who will provide greater police visibility across rural Renfrewshire. These officers will be seen on cycle and foot patrols within the villages and will carry out mobile patrols across the various estates, farms and rural road network. They will receive specialist training with regard to wildlife crime and will be on hand to deal with some of the issues experienced on the local estates and farms.
Speaking at the launch event at Gryffe Wraes Farm, Bridge of Weir, Mark Crichton Maitland, owner of Elderslie Estates, said: “We have always placed great importance on the estate playing a positive role at the heart of the community and I hope that our support for Renfrewshire Rural Watch can have a beneficial impact on the local area.
“There has undoubtedly been an increase in rural crime in the area over the past few years. By Elderslie Estates working in conjunction with the local community and Police Scotland, I hope we can deal with this issue and provide a blueprint for other areas to collectively tackle crime in their own region.”
Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Agricultural crime, and crime in rural areas, is an issue that has been gaining prominence in recent years. Such incidents go well beyond isolated acts such as quad bike and tractor theft to include more organised issues of sheep rustling, fly-tipping, interference with legal pest control equipment and illegal coursing.
"Elderslie Estates are to be commended for making resources available to help tackle such issues in their local area. Renfrewshire Rural Watch is a wonderful initiative that will provide extra peace of mind to residents and businesses throughout the area and will benefit everyone, not just the estate itself. This partnership between landowners, businesses, Police Scotland and others clearly shows what can be achieved by working in collaboration with the community’s welfare at the heart of decision making.”
Speaking about Renfrewshire Rural Watch, Chief Inspector Simon Wright of Police Scotland said:“The countryside can be seen as a soft target for criminals and the farming and rural areas can be challenging to police due to their remoteness.
“The development of Renfrewshire Rural Watch together with the introduction of my new dedicated rural policing officers will create a more effective link between members of the rural community and police. I’m sure that by working together we can raise awareness of crime prevention and ultimately deter criminals from targeting rural Renfrewshire.”
Anna Newman, local resident and co-ordinator of Renfrewshire Rural Watch added: “One of the most important things that a Rural Watch member can do is report suspicious vehicles. A suspicious vehicle is basically a vehicle that is out of place, like cars or vans that are seen touring around the area that we know are not our neighbours or from local businesses. A vehicle will rarely drive up to a farm or isolated house because they are lost – they are more likely scoping out opportunities for crime.
“It's only by keeping vigilant and reporting these vehicles, such as the number plate, colour and any other distinguishing features, to the police or crimestoppers that we can help protect our community from further crime.”
The Scottish Government has also welcomed the new initiative.
Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse, said: “Recorded crime is at its lowest level in 40 years thanks to our police officers and staff who are keeping communities in all parts of our country safe. Rural policing presents unique and particular challenges and I welcome the introduction of two dedicated rural police officers to focus on these issues in Renfrewshire. Local policing – focused on local priorities – remains at the heart of Scottish policing and working in partnership with other organisations is an important step to tackling the issue of rural crime and I will be keen to learn how this local initiative can help both to tackle agricultural crime in Renfrewshire and inform how we can address the issues elsewhere in Scotland.”