A new police operation has been launched to combat the growing crime threat in rural areas of the Westcountry.
Theft in rural areas has been on the rise, with criminals targeting high-value machinery, such as quad bikes, as well as scrap metal and livestock.
Devon and Cornwall Police have now created a new, proactive, team – under the title Operation Newmarket – which is tasked with preventing and detecting rural crime, intelligence-gathering and cross-border liaison with neighbouring South West forces.
In its first operation, officers from Devon and Cornwall joined forces with colleagues from Avon and Somerset. In all, 143 people and vehicles were stopped and spoken with in rural locations covering border areas with Somerset and Dorset, although no arrests were made.
The operation included local policing teams, neighbourhood police officers, police community support officers and officers from the road crime unit.
PC Roy Hutter said: "Rural crime continues to be a priority crime and the team are working hard to prevent offences taking place – and where they have taken place to catch and convict those responsible.
"We want to encourage people in the rural communities to take responsibility for their property and do all they can to ensure that all of their property is marked and securely locked away, with all serial numbers recorded separately.
"This simple action will provide a more realistic prospect of officers being able to detect crime and bring those offenders to justice."
Many thefts have been opportunistic, with thieves targeting unsecured outbuildings and in some cases simply lifting metal gates off their hinges.
Others, however, have been well planned, with criminal gangs using specialist vehicles to load animals or large farm machinery.
Sheep have proved particularly vulnerable with hundreds of animals being stolen across Devon and Cornwall – believed to be destined for illegal slaughterhouses.
Police reiterated their appeal for the public to report suspicious incidents or suspect vehicles.
"It is becoming more apparent that properties in rural locations are being targeted by people who are asking to buy scrap metal or old batteries," PC Hutter added.
"If you have received a visit like this, please obtain as much detail as possible about the person and vehicle, including registration number, and call the police on 101.
"The Operation Newmarket team are here to help you, so please use them."
Anyone wishing to contact an officer from Operation Newmarket can call 01392 226063 or email operationnew market@devonandcornwall. pnn.police.uk