RURAL police are getting specialist mental health training to help farming communities that are victims of crime amid the coronavirus pandemic.

North Wales Police officers in the Rural Crime Team, which investigates almost all rural crimes such as the theft of livestock and vehicles and attacks on livestock and wildlife, are aiming to provide frontline support for isolated communities across the region during the high stakes of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic uncertainty of Brexit.

They held a virtual conference call with the DPJ Foundation, the mental health farming charity which provides a 24-hour counselling service and specialist training for organisations.

Rob Taylor, manager, said that suicide rates are already high in farming communities and as a result incidents of crime such as sheep thefts have significant impact on mental health.

“The impact of Covid-19 has been huge, particularly for the farming community, both economically and socially.

“The farming community has a high suicide rate anyway but the pressures of Covid have compounded them, for example visiting farmers’ markets has become a problem.

“These are people who often work alone in remote location, with their family being their only form of contact.

“The impact of a theft or livestock attack can therefore have a huge effect and it is amplified because of issues such as the coronavirus lockdown and Brexit.

“Officers are aware of mental health issues but we have embarked on further training to get an insight into further issues and to be able to support and signpost victims.”

The police unit, which has 11 officers, was set up in 2013 as the first of its kind and it has seen a significant fall in rural crime by 90 per cent over the last 12 years, while incidents have been on the rise elsewhere in the UK. Due to its success the Dyfed-Powys Rural Crime Team was also launched in 2018.

Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones suggested that the coronavirus lockdown had caused a slowdown in rural crimes such as badger baiting and egg stealing due to the there being road traffic to provide cover for criminals, however as restrictions are eased crimes could rise again.

Officers will carry out another conference with the Farming Community Network, which support farmers who face problems in their personal life, such as relationship breakdowns, physical health problems and bereavement.

“Mental health always been there but a lot has been done via social media to help people open up and talk,” added Mr Taylor.

“We’re on front line with calls to remote locations at 5pm, 6pm or 10pm at night and on weekends when specialist help is not always available.

“I want our officers to give a first-class service and while mental health is not a usual part of our work it is extremely vital.”

The Rural Crime Team recruited an additional three officers at the start of 2020, bringing its number up to 11, and it is expected to patrol the North Wales region daily by the end of 2020.

It is also implementing high-tech methods such as drones to combat rural crime and hunting offences, as well as calling for new laws to allow DNA testing following livestock thefts and attacks.