A national park has joined a countrywide drive to crack down on heritage crime.
The Peak District National Park Authority will target thieves and vandals who target precious ancient monuments and property owners who flout conservation rules.
The Peak District is the first national park authority in the country to sign the Heritage Crime Enforcement memorandum, a pledge to work jointly with English Heritage, the police and Crown Prosecution Service to prevent, investigate, prosecute and advise on heritage crime.
The authority has also joined the 140-strong Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage, a network launched by English Heritage to spread anti-crime information to official bodies, heritage organisations such as the National Trust, Church of England and local community groups.
The authority has in its sights heritage crimes such as vandalism, arson, graffiti, unauthorised metal detecting, and trail-bike riders who wantonly scramble over archaeological remains such as 19th-century lead-rakes and prehistoric burial mounds.
It says stone artefacts are often stolen for garden ornaments. The capstone of Hope Cross, an 18th-century guidepost between Edale and Hope, disappeared early this year, but was found dumped in a layby after media publicity.
Irresponsible property owners are also being targeted. The authority recently prosecuted a householder who put uPVC windows in his listed farmhouse despite several warnings; he was fined £2,600 and ordered to pay £800 costs.
The Peak District claims a rich inheritance of historic structures and archaeological remains, with more than 2,900 listed buildings.
Its churches in particular have been targeted by metal thieves in the past couple of years, with lead stolen from historic churches in Hartington, Hathersage, Castleton, Youlgrave and Chelmorton.
Last month two Nottingham men were sentenced to 12 months and nine months imprisonment at Derby Crown Court for stealing lead from St John the Baptist Church, Chelmorton. The authority provided an impact statement which will be used as an example by English Heritage.
Pauline Beswick, the national park’s member representative for cultural heritage, said: “By signing the Heritage Crime Enforcement memorandum we strengthen our action to combat these crimes by working together with like-minded organisations in a common cause.
“People may think the loss of a few hundred pounds worth of metal from a church roof isn’t important, but it can destroy centuries-old timber, stone carvings and plaster as water leaks into the building, causing thousands of pounds worth of repairs that churches struggle to pay.
“Once objects are damaged, removed or destroyed they are lost forever. We owe it to future generations to protect them from harm.”
Mark Harrison, national policing and crime advisor for English Heritage, said: “I am delighted that the Peak District National Park Authority has joined Arch and become a signatory to the enforcement memorandum of understanding.
“The Heritage Crime Programme has already shown that it can bring together different organisations within communities to establish local networks, which is the most important part of the programme because this is where the real difference can be made if we can galvanise local action.”