A NATIONAL rural crime network that started life in County Durham has risen to become a vital tool for 100,000 people across the UK and has a reach of over 1.5 million views.

Based in Bishop Auckland, FarmWatcherUK was founded in 2014 by farmer’s daughter Andrea Stephenson after her family suffered a quad bike theft.

Since its humble beginnings, the network has become the UK’s number one rural crime alert, working alongside regional and national police intelligence officers and members of the public to amplify live theft alerts in all areas of rural crime.  

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Now that it’s become established nationwide, the County Durham platform has this week launched a national rural crime website aimed at raising awareness of rural crime across the country.

Launched to enable those who live and work in rural areas, the mission of the site is to reverse the spiralling trend of rural crime and to reduce the “crippling impact” on the UK farming industry.

Andrea Stephenson, director, and founder of FarmWatcherUK, said “Rural crime can take many forms such as livestock and machinery theft, poaching, fly-tipping, and every one of these is debilitating to the landowner.

The Northern Echo: Andrea Stephenson, director, and founder of FarmWatcherUK. Picture: FARMWATCHERUK.Andrea Stephenson, director, and founder of FarmWatcherUK. Picture: FARMWATCHERUK.

“Not only does rural crime have a devastating effect on the day to day running of the farm, but the constant threat of theft also has a huge impact on the mental health of the farming families, who constantly feel they are being watched and may become the next target.

“We all know the pressures the police forces are under and FarmWatcherUK helps to amplify the rural crime alerts, leaving the police to get on with their day job.

“The interactive website has been launched to make users aware of the threats in their area while amplifying alerts on behalf of the police forces.”

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Over the last eight years, the national scheme has grown to a network of over 100,000 followers with an average monthly social media reach of 1.5 million views. 

According to agricultural studies, rural crime costs the UK on average £50m each year and despite an overall fall in rural theft during lockdown, the downside was that when the criminals struck, they struck harder, using new tactics to overcome security. 

Along the way, FarmWatcherUK has gained some friends in high places, with Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham, becoming involved in the project to try and make County Durham a safer place for rural communities.

The Northern Echo: The rural project is aimed at reducing crime on farms. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO.The rural project is aimed at reducing crime on farms. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO.

He said: “I first met with Andrea and the team from FarmWatcherUK in May 2020 on a call at the height of the lockdown.

“I was dismayed to hear of many of the incidents that their network has identified but applaud their efforts to shine a light upon them.

“Problems like poaching, agricultural vehicle theft and fly-tipping are a particular problem for constituents in Weardale where they were established, within my constituency.

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Superintendent Andy Huddleston, Northumbria Police lead for Rural Crime, added: “I am fully supportive of the role FarmWatcherUK has in bringing our rural communities together in helping make where we live and work safer and crime free.

“I believe it is an excellent platform from which the rural community, not just farmers, can share both information concerning rural crime but also good practice.

“Social media is massively powerful and is very much at the forefront of modern prevention and detection of crime particularly in rural areas.”

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