DRONE patrols have been launched in a bid to reduce arson attacks, poaching and antisocial behaviour on the conurbation’s urban heaths.

The latest technology will give officers on the ground a bird’s eye view of heaths across the BCP Council area.

Inspector Ady Thompson, of Poole Police, said: “As around a third of the heathland forms part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), drones cannot typically be flown over the area.

“However, with special permission from Natural England, officers will be able to use police drones to help reduce instances of anti-social behaviour.”

Officers are working with partners within the Urban Heath Partnership, which includes the council and Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service.

The patrols will be used to “disrupt and prosecute” those committing arson, poaching and traffic offences within heathland areas, police say.

In 2018 a series of heath fires broke out during the summer. One of them, at Upton Heath in August of that year, was thought to have been either started deliberately or by careless behaviour.

At its height it was tackled by 100 firefighters.

An area the size of four football pitches was destroyed.

Moped and minimoto riders, who have been blamed with causing widespread damage to protected heathland habitat, will also be targeted.

BCP Council leader Vikki Slade said: “The support of Dorset Police to help safeguard, not only our rare heathlands and the wildlife that they support but also the public using these sites, has always been an essential piece of the jigsaw in our efforts to deter illegal activities.

“We value our heathlands greatly and we welcome this innovative initiative to help protect them.”

Meanwhile, Martyn Underhill, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Dorset Police was the first force in the country to recognise the huge potential of this technology by creating a dedicated drone unit.

“A drone is able to view a far larger area, far quicker than an officer on foot would be able to, so this is another excellent example of working in partnership to introduce innovative technology, making the best possible use of resources to protect our natural environment and keep people safe.”

Police say they have been conducting high-visibility patrols across the area’s heaths.

“However, with the development of drones as a new tool to use in the fight against crime,” said Inspector Thompson, “we hope this can help us make the heaths an even safer environment for everyone to enjoy.”

Dorset heaths are home to all six native reptiles: smooth snake, grass snake, adder, sand lizard, common lizard and slow worm – and for some of these, our heaths are the only remaining natural habitat in the UK.