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An eye on growing crime

Big brother is watching British farms - a random sample of them - in a bid to rein in fraudulent claims for subsidy payments. In the largest satellite-monitoring project ever conducted in the UK, images of farms will be analysed to ensure that what is growing in the fields matches the claims submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Farming fraud is estimated to cost European taxpayers pounds 2bn to pounds 6bn per year, of a 1994 European Union budget for plant and animal support payments of pounds 23bn.

The monitoring work, carried out by the National Remote Sensing Centre, follows trials of the technique in a number of European countries last year. For each farm, individual field boundaries are digitised and overlaid on a series of satellite images (above). The images are then inspected to determine both area and land use, and the results are compared with subsidy claims.

The images will come from the European Spot and US Landsat satellites that orbit the Earth every 100 minutes. At the moment, claims are monitored by earth- bound officials trudging around the farms.

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