Farmers in collaboration with the PSNI in Fermanagh have taken a major step forward to combat rural crime in their areas.

Over 100 farmers from the county attended the launch of Farmwatch at Enniskillen Campus by the Agriculture Minister, Michelle O'Neill.

The scheme incorporates a range of measures which are designed to prevent thieves from stealing items of valuable machinery from farms, especially those in rural locations.

Sergeant Scott Fallis, from Fermanagh North Neighbourhood Policing Team introduced the proceedings by explaining the concept of Farmwatch and the practicalities of the scheme.

He said rural crime presented a real challenge to police, given the isolation of many farms and the lack of CCTV available in the countryside. Farmwatch is a multifaceted initiative, he said, which will instigate and maintain a vital link between local farmers and neighbourhood policing teams.

Almost 100 farmers registered for Farmwatch on the night. This means each farmer will now be visited at their farm by their Neighbourhood Police Officer. Whilst on the farm the officer can offer the following services: -A unique Farmwatch metal sign for display at the farm entrance -Items of machinery forensically marked with Datatag -Trailers and Quads marked and registered -Tools and equipment details recorded on a register held by police -Retina Scanning of Sheep -Registration onto Business Watch - alerts farmer by text if there is suspicious activity in the area -Farmers will be invited to participate in a quarterly forum with police.

Sergeant Fallis explained that probably the most important element of the Farmwatch scheme is that a Neighbourhood Officer has to actually visit each farm in order to carry out these services, and therefore gets to know the farmer, and vice versa. "It is important that officers get to know what is actually up those concrete lanes and build up trust with the farmer. Farmwatch will greatly enhance the prevention of crime, but also increase the recovery rate of stolen property. We want to send out a clear message to the criminal fraternity. As a group, the farmers in Fermanagh are working closely with the Police Service in a bid to make it as difficult as possible for the thief," he said.

Already the policing teams are making appointments to visit the farms.

Speaking at the launch of the scheme, the Minister said: "The impact of rural crime on farming families goes far beyond the loss of property. Rural crime can make isolated farming communities feel even more isolated as they padlock doors and gates, hide away farm machinery and look at strangers with an eye of suspicion." The Minister continued: "Farmwatch is a wide ranging package of interventions to help reduce rural crime in County Fermanagh. The technological tools involved in the scheme will provide vital evidence in criminal investigations and will help ensure livestock and machinery is identified, recovered and returned to their owners. "However while this technology gives access to some very useful tools, I believe the most important part of Farmwatch is that it will provide farmers in Fermanagh with an opportunity to work together and, with the support of the PSNI, tackle this issue. I hope this Farmwatch scheme will be used to bring a greater sense of togetherness to counter the sense of isolation rural crime produces." If any farmers was unable to attend the launch of Farmwatch, but wishes still to be involved, they can express their interest by contacting their local Neighbourhood Officer, or alternatively contact Sergeant Scott Fallis on 07795607570 (if you leave a message your call will be returned).