Police say unauthorised traveller encampments have fallen by more than a third so far this year.

Between January 1 and May 15 2019 there were 26 encampments in the county.

This is compared to 74 in the same period last year.

The figures did not take into account the month of June. 

Essex Police says it is as the result of the introduction of its Gypsy, Traveller and Rural Engagement Team (GTRET) and the establishment of the Unauthorised Encampment Protocol in 2017.

Sergeant Paul Downes, who leads the Gypsy, Traveller and Rural Engagement Team, said:

“There are many members of the traveller community who visit our county and do not carry out any criminal activity or anti-social behaviour.

“Whenever there is an unauthorised encampment in Essex, my team visits the site to engage with members of the group and make sure they are ok, as well checking on the welfare of any animals and checking any vehicles present.

“The majority of our engagements with the traveller community are positive, but sometimes it leads us to identify vehicles which have been previously stolen or ones which aren’t road worthy.

“In these cases we’ve confiscated those vehicles.

“We will be stepping up this activity during the course of the summer and people should be aware that Essex is not a place where you can come and commit crime.

“We are here to engage with rural communities and when illegal activity is happening we will take a robust approach.”

Officers routinely check vehicles and seize those they find to be stolen.

This year the team has recovered 71 vehicles, a mixture of trailers, horse boxes, cars, chippers, tele handlers and caravans.

Some of these were due to violations of road traffic legislation, but most were stolen.

Roger Hirst, the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, welcomed the reduction.

He said: “Our GTRET officers are having a significant impact on reducing criminal activity in rural areas, which is one of the key priorities in my Police and Crime Plan.

"It is a great result when we are able to return stolen vehicles to their rightful owners, but it is even better when we can stop these thefts in the first place.

"Ensuring a consistent, robust approach is taken to unlawful encampments and the theft of vehicles, especially from rural communities, is helping to drive down criminal activity across the county as people intent on committing crime are thinking twice before coming to Essex.”

The downward trend in the number of unauthorised encampments in Essex started since 2017 when there were 339.

Last year this fell to 231.