POLICE are stepping up patrols and asking for the public’s help to protect North Yorkshire’s rich heritage.

Historically important sites in York and North Yorkshire include everything from scheduled ancient monuments like the remains of Roman forts and villas to the world-famous natural landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.

However, they are at risk from criminals whose illegal activities could mean they are damaged or even lost to future generations.

Heritage crime is any offence involving damage or loss to the historic environment – that is, buildings, monuments, sites and landscapes that reflect our history.

It covers a wide range of offences – including criminal damage, arson, theft of artefacts, metal theft, unauthorised metal detecting, unauthorised development and damage caused by vehicles.

“Repairing the damage caused to heritage assets is expensive – but the cost to communities is often immeasurable,” said Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce

“We all need to work together to protect these sites, so that future generations can continue to enjoy them for many years to come.

“This can be achieved by increasing awareness of the heritage assets in our community, supporting rural watch schemes, and encouraging members of the public to report incidents around heritage sites.”

To encourage vigilance and increased reporting, officers are highlighting the top four risks to heritage buildings, including criminal damage to historic buildings, metal theft from church roofs, the theft of artefacts and damage to countryside caused by vehicles.

Last week, BBC One’s Crimewatch Roadshow featured an incident of lead theft from St Lawrence’s Church in Kirby Misperton.

In early 2019, lead was stolen from the roof and damage caused to stonework.

Rain entered the church through temporary roofing and damaged walls, plaster, paintings, and carpets.

The damage will cost more than £60,000 to put right – far more than the value of the stolen lead. Community events such as baptisms and weddings have had to be postponed.

“This type of crime is very much related to the price of lead and copper,” added PC Jez Walmsley, of North Yorkshire Police.

“Very simply, the higher the price of lead, the more this sort of crime goes up, because the thieves can get a better return on their work.”

Report any concerns to the police on 101 or, if a crime is in progress, 999.

For more information, visit www.northyorkshire.police.uk/heritagewatch