Unmanned flying drone flies across a farm
Unmanned flying drones are being used by criminal gangs in the British countryside to detect secret marijuana farmsGetty Images

Criminal gangs in the UK are using unmanned flying helicopter drones fitted with heat-seeking cameras to detect marijuana farms belonging to rivals so that they can then steal their crops.

According to local newspaper Halesowen News, a spate of violent robberies have taken place in Halesowen, Cradley Heath and Oldbury since the criminals know that they will not be reported to the police.

"I bought my first drone for a few hundred quid and learnt how to fly it over wasteland and fitted a Wi-Fi camera to it so I could look into people's windows," a 33-year-old unnamed source said.

"However, I noticed police helicopters used thermal imaging cameras to find cannabis farms because of the heat the hydroponic lights give off so I bought a second hand heat-seeking camera online and hooked it up to my iPad."

Farms in residential areas

In 2007, Birmingham police busted 500 marijuana farms by using their helicopters with thermal imaging cameras to detect the heat given off by the powerful lights used to cultivate the plants.

In recent years, commercial-sized farms have been set up in quiet residential areas, with drug lords getting people to pose as respectable families to rent out properties.

Rooms in the rented properties are then converted into giant greenhouses and the electricity in the property is rigged to bypass the meter so that they don't have to pay for skyrocketing bills from the lights used.

Using the remote-controlled flying drones, which can be bought by anyone for under £300, is much easier when trying to rob rival cannabis farms, as they are tiny, almost silent and can often fly overhead without people in the area much the wiser.

Fair game

"We started in Handsworth but you never know who your messing with there so I bring my drone up these sides now as it is safer and less built up so easier to fly," the criminal explained.

"Half the time we don't even need to use violence to get the crop. Growing cannabis has gone mainstream and the people growing it are not gangsters, especially in places like Halesowen, Cradley Heath and Oldbury."

In the US, until recently the commercial use of flying drones was banned by the FAA. There is no such ban in the UK, however.

The criminal feels that people who secretly grow marijuana are "fair game" for being robbed and spied on.

"It is not like I'm using my drone to see if people have nice televisions," stresses the criminal.

"I am just after drugs to steal and sell. If you break the law then you enter me and my drone's world."