Four police forces in Wales have come together to launch an operation designed to crack down on crime against heritage assets.
Operation Heritage Cymru is thought to be the first initiative of its kind in the UK, and is hoped to raise awareness and prevent heritage crime across the country.
Heritage crime, defined as an offence which harms the value of heritage assets and their settings, applies to locations including conservation areas, listed buildings, scheduled monuments and World Heritage Sites.
CADW, the historic environment service of the Welsh Government, says that while some of these assets are protected by specific criminal offences, heritage crime often takes the form of ‘general’ offences such as theft, criminal damage, arson, unlawful salvage of shipwrecks and anti-social behaviour.
It says these crimes are equally damaging to historic assets and interfere with the public’s understanding and enjoyment of them.
Among the activities the operation is targeting are illegal metal detecting, or nighthawking, and off-roading on such sites.
Inspector Reuben Palin, from Dyfed-Powys Police said: “People are rightly proud of their heritage but unfortunately there is a minority that don’t give it the respect it deserves.
“Heritage crime is a serious issue that can have a serious negative effect on our communities.
“Our heritage and the small pieces of history that are broken down or lost to heritage crime, can never be replaced, so we want to make people think about their actions and discourage anyone from doing it.”
Police teams will be working with CADW, Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, National Parks, National Trust, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, archaeological trusts and various volunteers across the sector to work towards a greater understanding of heritage crime.
To coincide with the launch, police cadets across Wales are being trained in heritage crime, along with training Rural Crime and Neighbourhood Policing teams.
Dyfed-Powys Police Chief Constable, Dr Richard Lewis, said: “It may seem like small crimes to those involved but it is not. Anything that is taken or damaged in the process of heritage crime is irreplaceable. So, once they are gone they are lost forever.
“As police forces we are showing our commitment to this issue so we hope the public will support us by being our eyes and ears and reporting it to us when they see people committing heritage crimes.”
Police are advising people to call 101, quoting “Op Heritage Cymru” If they are concerned that a recent incident has taken place which has damaged a historic asset – or report it via the local force’s website.