HIGH-FLYING drones could be used to spy on unsuspecting villains in rural areas in a new bid to crack down on countryside crime.

Essex Police has launched Operation Buzzard to co-ordinate their work on rural operations throughout the county and part of the initiative will see drones fly overheard on farmland to monitor any suspicious characters thought to be up to no good.

Rural and heritage crime officer PC Andy Long said the police were determined to use all the technology available to them in a bid to catch criminals.

Speaking at the launch of the new operation he said: “The idea is criminals in Essex will not know when we are watching them.

“They will not know when they are going about their illegal business, there is a drone flying overhead which we have been given permission to fly over by the farmer.”

Footage and pictures from the drone could be used in court to convict criminals.

PC Long said their partner agencies including the Environment Agency, farmers and residents needed to work together with the police to help catch criminals.

“But we also need the support of local residents, farmers and rural businesses to act as our eyes and ears on the ground and report any suspicious activity.”

Peter Fairs, who farms land in Great Tey, welcomed the introduction of drones, or anything to try and catch people making the lives of rural workers a misery.

He said: “I would prefer anything which is going to reduce crime in the countryside or stop some of it completely.

“It is pretty outrageous what is going on at the moment and there is a lot of rural crime which I don’t think is being taken serious enough.”

Mr Fairs added: “Hare coursing has become a real and major issue in Essex - more is being down to stop it in Suffolk and Norfolk but it is getting worse in Essex.

“What happens is we have got really nasty characters arriving with their dogs and taking part in the coursing and they are filming and betting on what they are doing.

“If you go out and confront them they are really bad people.”

Mr Fairs said flytipping and damage and theft of machinery were also areas of concern.

He said: “Massive amounts of rubbish are just being left and dumped on land because of the closure and restrictions which are being placed on some recycling centres and limitations on builder’s rubbish and trade waste.

“Then you have burglary of machinery and things like that.

“I would welcome anything which might help reduce this type of crime.”

Critics of the scheme said they would prefer to see police on the scene themselves to target criminals.

Burnham mayor Ron Pratt said: “Residents want to see more of a physical police presence.

“Only time will tell whether this operation will be a good thing or a bad thing.”