THE plundering of stone from communities has been ongoing for years.

Considering the value of Yorkshire stone - coping stones, pavements and pathways can be profitable but at what cost to our communities?

Yorkshire stone forms part of the fabric of many of our towns and cities and, as such, its historical importance is priceless.

Years ago Sir Titus Salt's model village, and now designated a World Heritage site, fell victim to stone thieves plundering pathways and gardens.

More recently, photographs posted on a community social media site of the gaps left behind following the removal of some of the stones which characterised the pathway across the village green in East Bierley, are indicative that our heritage remains very much at risk.

In 1981 East Bierley, a rural village on the outskirts of Bradford, was designated as a conservation area in recognition of its 'special architectural or historic interest.'

An area of the stone pathway paving the way across the green was already in-filled with a black surface - a lasting reminder from where the last batch of flags 'disappeared.'

Now, the reality of the latest disappearance of stones which have left the pathway staggered and uneven are laid bare in photographs posted on the community social media site 'Birkenshaw, East Bierley and Surrounding Areas.'

The problem is once it has gone it has literally gone as cash-strapped councils, more often than not, cannot afford to replace like with like.

Seeing the posts on the 'Birkenshaw, East Bierley and Surrounding Areas' - an online community now boasting more than 4,000 members, Paul Robinson decided to take action.

Paul previously contacted Tracy Brabin, prospective parliamentary candidate for Batley and Spen, to see whether the issue could be raised at Government level.

In incidents where stones have been proven to have been stolen, Paul is keen for the Government to increase the punishment for those caught stealing stone to having their vehicles confiscated and crushed in addition to any other court rulings.

"There is not a sufficient deterrent. If they don't have a vehicle to steal it in it may make them think twice about doing it," says Paul.

John Keeling, treasurer of East Bierley Preservation Society who runs Keelings Nurseries, says: "You are trying to protect the local environment and it is being wiped out by the disappearance of bits and pieces."

Now he is calling on local people to be vigilant. "It is their village - support it and preserve it," he adds.

But East Bierley isn't the only village to suffer from stones going missing. Around six paving stones disappeared this week from the pavement in Station Lane, Birkenshaw - a route regularly used by children walking to and from the local primary school.

A Kirklees Council spokesman says: “Unfortunately, this type of incident happens far more often than we would like, with flags going missing on a monthly basis."

The spokesman says in the vast majority of cases no-one comes forward with information that will help to track down those responsible, so it would help if members of the Public could report anything suspicious to the Police.

"If genuine workmen are removing the flags and undertaking legitimate activities, they will not mind identifying themselves," says the spokesman.

He added the council couldn't sustain replacing stone flags in every case. Unless they are located in a conservation area they are replaced with "blacktop."

"Within a Conservation area we will make immediate but temporary repairs in “blacktop”, to make it safe, but will then replace the area with reclaimed or new stone flags when the correct materials can be sourced."

He says the two routes have been made safe and permanent repairs will now be programmed in.

Three years ago Keighley Town Council introduced SmartWater to help clamp down on stone disappearing from in and around the town.

The traceable liquid, which directly links thieves with a particular crime scene, was invented by former West Midlands police officer, Phil Cleary and his chartered chemist brother, Mike Cleary.

Independent councillor, Michael Westerman, chairman of Keighley Town Council's Watch and Transport committee, recalls the campaign proved effective with a noticeable drop in the number of stone thefts. "It's the thing people need to get and it doesn't wash off," he explains.

Sarah Lee, Countryside Alliance Head of Policy, said "The theft of heritage stone is scarring our villages, churches are losing their identity and our heritage and history is being stolen. There is also a significant burden on home owners and authorities to put things right. We must work together to tackle this scourge of stone theft, it is a serious organised crime, and we must ensure our heritage and history is not lost forever."