A POLICE team which tackles hare coursers, traveller encampments and fly-tipping is set to expand.

This month, Essex Police’s rural engagement team will begin working in 23 more town centres across the county, with four more police constables and a sergeant, as well as additional officers by 2020.

The team, under the leadership of Chief Insp Terry Balding has been deployed in Maldon this summer.

In one of the most severe cases, five acres of Broadward Farm in Southminster went up in flames after a pair of suspected hare coursers got on to the land and set fire to a car.

The blaze spread to “within ten metres” of a cottage near the field.

Mr Balding said he was excited to be starting his new role in the team.

He also stressed the importance of officers being more visible in their communities to make more isolated populations feel safer.

He said: “I am really excited about this new chapter in my career.

“It comes at a time when the force is expanding and I look forward to helping to make our rural communities safer.

“I am passionate about policing especially within the rural community, I have fond memories of my grandfather and being on his farm growing up.

“I feel that the partnership between officers and the local community is crucial in our fight against crime and want to continue to build on these relationships.

“At this time of year hare coursing and people looking for sites for this illegal activity is a particular focus for us.

“We would ask everyone to look out for signs this is going on, any unfamiliar vehicle or groups of people with dogs to please report to 101.

“The rural community in Essex is a large part of our county and it has its own challenges. I am determined to protect and serve everyone within it.”