CRIME fighters joined forces earlier this week to celebrate three decades of patrolling the countryside.

The Wear and Tees Farmwatch was established in 1989 in response to rural crime at the time and is believed to be the oldest scheme of its kind in the UK.

It was established by Peter and Gladys Stubbs from their home in Kinninvie, near Barnard Castle.

The couple had a vision to set up a group of farming volunteers to assist the police in targeting and tackling criminals who stole from farms.

This was one of the first examples of volunteering and support for policing which still thrives today.

Initially it ran in Teesdale but as its successes grew it soon covered all of Weardale and Teesdale – it was seen as the catalyst for many similar police forces to set up similar schemes.

Over the years the many accolades have deservedly been awarded.

Of note it is believed that the couple were the first civilians to receive Chief Constables Commendations from Durham Police, a reward that is normally reserved only for police officers.

In 2012, the Wear and Tees Farmwatch was recognised by the National Farmers' Union as biggest and best Farmwatch scheme in the country.

However, the best was yet to come for Mr Stubbs and in 2014 he was presented by Prince William at Buckingham Palace with an MBE for his services to the community.

Officers from Durham believe this farm watch is the biggest and best in the country.

In 2012 it won the national award for “top rural watch scheme”, has more than 800 members across Weardale and Teesdale and boasts a bank of 70 volunteers who regularly work with officers on night time operations.

The use of technology has also heightened the effectiveness of the scheme.

When it started, Mr Stubbs and his volunteers used phone boxes or would go into a local farm to use their phone to alert the police but now its smart phones and instant information sharing up and down the dales via WhatsApp.

Even the radios have now been replaced with an App based ‘walkie-talkie’ system called Zello.

Members of the group gathered at the Marwood Social Centre, near Barnard Castle, on Tuesday, to mark the 30th anniversary with supporters and guests including Chief Constable Jo Farrell.

The celebration also saw the scheme rebranded as Ruralwatch to recognise the wider rural community issues and the continued support from dedicated individuals and organisations.

The couple officially handed over the reins to the new generation of Ruralwatch volunteers and were recognised for their huge contribution to the scheme at the event.

Chief Constable Jo Farrell said: "It is an honour to be able to mark three decades of Farmwatch – a scheme which brings together officers and the communities they serve – and recognise those who have made it successful."