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Pilots to help riders combat crime

Horsewatch, the national co-ordinator for equine and equine-related crime, is teaming up with Sky Watch, a group of volunteer pilots and their observers, who scour the countryside, eyes peeled, to help beat lorry, trailer and horse theft.

“A small aeroplane provides unique observation, which is impossible on the ground. At all times, the pilot has a detailed view of 10sq ml and can monitor 100sq ml,” said Sky Watch chairman and founder Arnold Parker.

A registered charity, Sky Watch was set up six years ago following an accident in which some children were killed when playing on a railway line. Mr Parker felt the tragedy might have been avoided if someone had spotted the children, and the idea caught on. Sky Watch now has 14 units with 160 aircraft across England and Scotland, making it the largest auxiliary air observation and search service in Europe.

The pilots — who fly regularly to keep up their “flying hours” to retain their licences — donate their time and aircraft free of charge, to give something back to the community. They have worked with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Mountain Rescue, Farm Watch and CountryWatch as well as Caravan Watch and TruckWatch.

Thames Valley Horsewatch chairman Garry Porter contacted Sky Watch last November, after learning about the group from FarmWatch (Norfolk) Ltd.

“We now pass on our regular Horsewatch updates [to Sky Watch headquarters in Worcestershire], so when they’re up there, Sky Watch pilots can keep a lookout for stolen vehicles,” he told H&H. “They can help best looking for stolen horseboxes and trailers — it’s harder for them to search for horses unless one is galloping up a main road or something similar.”

One Sky Watch pilot spotted a cow swimming up the River Avon in Somerset, while another found vehicles stowed away in a roofless barn — visible from the air, but not from the ground.

By marking the tops of trailers and lorries, they can be identified easily from the air, providing it is done in large enough letters.

Mr Parker added: “We find that when equipment like this is stolen, it’s not taken very far. If it’s taken by professionals, it will be driven to a location within three or four miles and parked up. We ask people to mark vehicles with a contrasting colour in the postcode because it is instantly recognisable from the air.”

How to mark your vehicle

  • Garry Porter of Thames Valley Horsewatch advises: “Mark the vehicle inside and out — scratch your postcode into it. On the partions, breast bars, the spare wheel, everywhere. The more it is marked the less desirable to thieves it is.”
  • Sky Watch suggest marking the top with black tape used for silage sacks — it has to be wide enough to be seen from the air.
  • Thames Valley Horsewatch advocates postcode lettering available from FastSigns, at £30 per set (tel: 01923 211777).

Read this news story in full in today’s Horse & Hound (1 March, ’07)

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