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 30 years of Farmwatch


​Volunteer crime fighters from rural County Durham came together yesterday to celebrate three decades of patrolling the countryside in support of their communities and local police.

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 local police in targeting and tackling criminals who stole from farms. This was one of the first examples of volunteering and support for local 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 many accolades have been awarded. Of note it is believed that Peter and Gladys were the first civilians to receive chief constables commendations from Durham Constabulary, a reward that is normally reserved only for police officers. 

In 2012 the Wear and Tees Farmwatch was recognised by the NFU as biggest and best Farmwatch scheme in the country. However the best was yet to come for Peter and in 2014 he was presented by Prince William at Buckingham Palace with an MBE for his services to the community.

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, Peter 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.

More than 100 members gather at the Marwood Social Centre, near Barnard Castle, to mark the historic occasion 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 including UTASS, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), local county councillors, area action partnerships and the PCVC’s office.

Peter and Gladys 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 our officers and the rural communities they serve – and recognise all those who have made it so successful.

“It has been a great example of how we can work together to combat rural crime which can often have a far-reaching impact on the livelihoods and families of our rural residents.

“I am always impressed with the volunteers who are committed to helping us fight rural crime and I look forward to seeing the impressive work continue under the new banner of Ruralwatch.”

Inspector Ed Turner added: “Farmwatch has been instrumental in the effective policing of the Dales and it is a huge achievement to mark 30 years of volunteering.

“With its rebranding to Ruralwatch and the use of technology, the team continue to show they can evolve and are great partners in keeping our residents safe in the Dales – a partnership which we hope will continue to thrive for many more decades to come.”

Acting Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner, Steve White, said: “Over the last 30 years the volunteers of the Wear and Tees Farmwatch have improved ties across their communities and with the police service in tackling rural crime.

“It is vitally important that we continue to invest in our rural communities and ensure that those important relationships continue to go from strength-to-strength.

“Reducing rural crimes in all its forms remains a priority for Durham Constabulary and we will continue to strengthen confidence in the police across this beautiful countryside.”

NFU Deputy President, Guy Smith, said he was delighted to be in Teesdale to help the local farming community celebrate 30 years of collaboration with the police to combat rural crime.

“As a concept, Farmwatch has been a tremendous success story, seeing thousands of farmers across the country join other rural residents to act as the eyes and ears of the police and help amplify police activities through regular on-the-ground operations.

“It’s amazing to think that such a familiar approach was once very novel and started right here in Teesdale thanks to the commitment of Peter Stubbs, his wife Gladys and an ever growing number of friends and neighbours.

“This celebration highlights just how far Farmwatch has come in the last 30 years and how it is still growing and evolving to meet the modern day challenges of rural crime, which remains a significant challenge for farming and local communities.

“I’m delighted to see Wear and Tees Farmwatch enter a new chapter in its history, with a new co-ordinator and a new name recognising the fact that farmers are now being joined by the wider rural community in making it as hard as possible for criminals to target remote rural areas.

“This has to be our overriding objective and one we must not lose sight of. Here in Teesdale there is no fear of that – it’s clear your Farmwatch remains as determined as ever to help safe keep the area’s people, businesses and livestock.”

Farmwatch continue to look for funding opportunities and donations can be made via UTASS (Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services) based at Middleton-in-Teesdale.

Anyone interested in joining the operations can contact PCSO Liz Finn on the police non-emergency 101 number.