A horseback volunteer scheme is being launched in Uttlesford as part of Essex Police's efforts to prevent rural and heritage crime.

The Essex Horse Rider Volunteers Scheme will see volunteers on horseback, who regularly use bridleways, footpaths and narrow country lanes that are not easily accessible by vehicles, become the 'eyes and ears' of the police.

While officers continue to actively patrol, act upon intelligence and arrest those committing offences, this new trial sees them team up with Uttlesford District Council to bolster their efforts and work with communities.

This involves not only detecting and preventing crime in rural areas, but also ensuring sites of historical importance remain protected against crime and damage.

Horse riders are in a unique position to spot signs of suspicious activity relating to hare coursing, stolen agricultural vehicles, unlawful metal detecting or theft of lead from protected heritage buildings.

The horseback volunteers will be trained in what to look out for and will be able to report any suspicious activity to the police.

Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Nolan, Essex Police's lead for local policing and the national lead for heritage crime, said: "I’m delighted we are launching the Essex Horse Rider Volunteer Scheme. 

"We always work closely with our communities and this scheme really builds on that.

"Horse riders really know their local communities and are brilliantly placed to identify and report suspicious behaviour, especially off the beaten track.

"In Essex we have an excellent volunteer network and existing watch schemes – working with the equine community and local authorities, such as Uttlesford District Council, to expand upon this is the natural next step in tackling rural and heritage crime."

Rural crime which affects farms, livestock or wildlife can have a unique and significant impact on both the livelihoods of farmers and on protected or endangered species and animals which are being treated inhumanely.

Heritage crime can have an equally devastating impact on sites of historical interest - including churches, monuments and historical buildings - which are then ruined or lost for future generations.

Cllr Maggie Sutton, portfolio holder for communities, health, youth, public safety, emergency planning at Uttlesford District Council, said: "We recognise how rural crime affects farms, livestock and wildlife and targets individuals and rural businesses and the lasting impact it has on Uttlesford residents.

"We are hoping for any horse riders in Uttlesford to consider joining us with this scheme and help to be the eyes and ears for our rural communities in reporting suspicious activity and crime."

Mark Harrison, who is head of heritage crime strategy for Historic England, also welcomed the scheme and hopes volunteer horse riders will keep a watchful eye on Uttlesford's historical sites.

He said: "Our ancestors have left us with an amazing legacy that we can see in the form of historic buildings, archaeological sites and features in the landscape.

"Unfortunately, a small criminal minority are responsible for causing damage or loss to this precious and sensitive resource. In many cases the loss or damage is severe and often irreversible."