A new dedicated policing team is being launched in Leeds to tackle wildlife and rural crime.
The Leeds District Wildlife and Rural Crime Team will work to address and raise awareness of issues including animal cruelty and poaching.
It will also focus on crimes such as burglary and theft of farm machinery that affect rural and farming communities.
According the rural insurers NFU Mutual, the cost of rural crime in West Yorkshire in 2017 was estimated at £1.8m – a 13.5 per cent increase.
Chief Inspector Sally Fryer, who heads up neighbourhood policing for the Leeds District, said: “The district includes a large amount of countryside and a significant rural population and it’s important that we do everything we can to address the issues that affect those communities just as much as we do in the urban areas of the city.
“The creation of this new team provides an opportunity for us to better co-ordinate and focus increased efforts on tackling wildlife and rural crime. It will also allow us to work more closely alongside partner agencies and communities themselves to prevent and reduce such offences.
“Criminals who commit wildlife and rural offences are often the same offenders involved in other types of crime in the city and so there is a clear benefit in targeting them through the work of the new team.”
Members of the new team, which has been created with the support of student officers, will be embedded within local neighbourhood policing teams across the district as a point of contact for their colleagues and the public.
They will target organised offenders involved in rural crime, take the lead on investigations of wildlife crimes and provide crime prevention advice to prevent and deter offences.
Officers will work closely in partnership with key agencies including the RSPCA, farmers' union NFU and neighbouring police forces.
They will also be expanding and developing the Farm Watch and Horse Watch initiatives, which are free schemes that provide a network to share information and intelligence to warn residents and businesses when rural crimes or suspicious incidents occur.
Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “This is a key outcome in my Police and Crime Plan under tackling crime and anti-social behaviour and no matter where someone lives or operates their business in West Yorkshire they should feel safe.
“Policing rural areas offers some unique challenges, as rural communities and businesses can feel isolated and vulnerable to travelling criminals. The development of this team brings together West Yorkshire Police’s passionate and knowledgeable rural and wildlife officers to take a positive step forward in tackling offenders from West Yorkshire and further afield.
“I have recently met with representatives from the NFU to discuss issues around rural crime and I will be following the progress of this new team closely.”