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Night drone patrols have been launched by police investigating the slaughter of sheep as part of a new high-tech efforts to combat the UK’s worst rural crime wave in seven years.

The drones have been deployed after 80 animals were killed on farms in Northamptonshire before being butchered and sold illegally to restaurants and shops. Officers have said the drone will be used alongside extra ground patrols.

“A lot of the crimes have happened in quite remote locations,” said Sgt Sam Dobbs, from Northamptonshire Police. “You physically can’t see from the road what’s going on. The drone can cover such a large area and see such a lot at night with the thermal imaging.”

It is the latest state-of-the-art technology being deployed by police and farmers. Sheep fleeces are also being laced with thousands of coded micro-dots that cannot be removed to combat rustlers who can steal hundreds of animals in a single raid.

Tractors are being fitted with geo-fencing, which means they trigger an alarm if they go beyond a farm boundaries as farmers attempt to fight organised crime who are moving in on the countryside to steal vehicles worth more than £50,000 for export abroad.

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