A mounted version of the Neighbourhood Watch scheme has been launched by Dorset Police, giving horse riders an official role in helping to make Purbeck villages safer.
Six equestrian volunteers, including one from Studland and one from Wool, have already been trained by Dorset Police to keep their ears and eyes open for potential crime around the county when they are out riding, and it’s hoped that the number will rise to 24 in the coming months.
Dorset Police’s new mounted rural volunteers will include Alexandra and Merla, pictured left, of Studland
Magnificent mounties in hi-vis jackets
The magnificent mounties include Alexandra of Studland and Emma from Wool, who will be out and about in Swanage, Corfe Castle, Studland, Lulworth and many other Purbeck villages in their high visibility police jackets.
Their brief is to engage with local rural communities while out on their regular hacks along bridleways, lanes, and country roads, gathering intelligence and reporting anything suspicious.
Information that the mounted volunteers can pass back to police officers may include signs of hare coursing, wildlife crime, fly tipping, heritage crime or planned thefts by organised teams of criminals.
Police hope they will not only help to further crack down on rural crime in the county, but will also provide a reassuring presence for local residents who see them out and about during the day.
Dorset Police’s rural crime team has grown from three members to 18 in the past two and a half years
“Seems like a fantastic idea”
One of the first mounted rural volunteers, Alexandra from Studland, will be taking her horse Merla out several times a week and said:
“I thought this was a wonderful way to help the community.
“I have been riding around Swanage, Studland and Corfe Castle for many years, I know the area very well, and to be able to use that time and knowledge to make local people feel safer seems like a fantastic idea.”
Dorset police and crime commissioner David Sidwick with Alexandra and Merla
Adding another strand of intelligence
At an official launch of the scheme at Kingstone Maurward equestrian college, Dorchester, on Thursday 12th October 2023, Dorset’s police and crime commissioner David Sidwick said:
“With the addition of the rural mounted volunteers, we are now adding another strand of intelligence.
“Having a Neighbourhood Watch on horseback going to places where cars can’t easily go will really help us find out what is going on in the countryside.
“I am very clear that we should have volunteers right across the county and with Purbeck being a largely rural place I would expect there to be a lot of interest in the scheme there.
“We are still recruiting and if any horse riders in Purbeck would like to join in with the scheme, they are very welcome to get in touch with us through our website and we would be delighted to have them.”
Six riders and horses have so far joined the team, but Dorset Police hope to boost that number to 24
Stolen items returned to rightful owners
The rural police team, which has won a national award for innovative solutions to serious organised crime, was recently able to return many stolen items to their rightful owners, including tractors, generators, ATVs and even a number of classic cars.
Stealing items of farm machinery can affect the whole livelihood of rural families and, because of supply problems since the outbreak of war in the Ukraine, replacing them is expensive and slow.
The introduction of horse riders in police marked clothing is hoped to be a deterrent to would be criminals, as well as a reassuring sight to locals and being able to feed intelligence back to the rural crime team.
Assistant chief constable Neil Corrigan at the launch of the rural mounted volunteer scheme
A unique vantage point from horseback
Assistant chief constable Neil Corrigan said:
“This is a really important initiative. Our volunteers understand the concerns of rural towns and villages and are very visible and reassuring to the locals as our eyes and ears in the community.
“It is really promising and helpful that we have so many members of the community who want to step forward and work with the police.
“From their elevated positions on horseback, they have a unique vantage point and can spot many things that someone on foot or in a vehicle might not otherwise be able to see or even be able to get near to.
“This vital intelligence sharing will ensure our teams are targeting their patrols and enforcement in the right areas, keeping people feeling safe where they live and work.”
Emma Stephens, of Wool (standing), is joining the mounted volunteers team to patrol in the Lulworth area
“From the top of a horse you get to see more”
And volunteer Emma Stephens, who works for RSPB Arne, added:
“I’m based in Wool, so it’s a really nice area for hacking out over the heaths towards Lulworth two or three times a week, and this sits really naturally with my absolute passion for riding.
“I can be really quite nosy and from the top of a horse you get to see more and people tend to ignore you a little bit, actually, so I’ll be looking for things which look out of place.
“Fairly recently I saw a suspicious looking deer carcase which I knew hadn’t been hit by a car, or you may see fly tipping or cars or people which look out of place.
“I volunteer for the RSPB as well as work for them, and volunteer for the rugby club, it’s just a theme that busy people stay busy and put something back into the community.”
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