A new-look rural crime team has been launched by Wiltshire Police.

The move comes just months after latest statistics showed rural crime cost Wiltshire over £1m last year, a rise of 102% from 2018.

Across the UK, rural crime cost £54m and the rise is being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

Demand from overseas for expensive farm kit is fuelling the rise and in one joint operation between NFU Mutual and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, five vehicles totalling more than £100,000 were recovered from Poland earlier this year.

The new Wiltshire team will focus on agricultural, environmental, wildlife and heritage crime and it has been brought together to "increase confidence and encourage reporting through preventing crime" and carrying out more intelligence-led operations.

It is made up of one sergeant, three constables and 35 community policing team officers who work as Wildlife and Heritage Crime Officers, the team will be operating across the county.

An Inspector will act as a tactical lead in addition to members of the Special Constabulary who will be used on pre-planned operations.

Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson said: “We live in a predominantly rural county so the policing service must be tailored to the needs of our diverse communities.

"While it is crucial to prevent violent crime areas across the county, there is a specific need to protect rural communities from the distinct threats they face.

“With the uplift in policing numbers being achieved by the precept increase and additional central funding, I am pleased that additional resource can be used to combat rural crime in Wiltshire and Swindon.

"As officers leave training over the coming years, I expect the team will be added to further."

Mark Constable, NFU Agent in Chippenham, said: “There’s no doubt that organised criminal gangs are targeting our countryside again and these figures would be much higher if it weren’t for specialist rural crime teams in police forces, and improved farm security measures such as trackers for tractors and quads.

"However, a successful security measure or initiative in one area can displace organised criminality to another place, which is why we need a joined-up approach everywhere.”

Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said: "We have made some significant advances in the way in which we police rural crime in recent years, however, criminals are becoming more organised and determined, and are using more sophisticated technology so there is always more that can be done.

“The introduction of the new dedicated rural crime officers to the team will help us immensely in our ability to run projects and focus on prevention alongside our partners."