Lead thefts at churches in Norfolk have fallen by half in the last two years thanks to an innovative security scheme.
The Roof Alarm Scheme, implemented by the Diocese of Norwich in partnership with the police, has proved successful in deterring would-be thieves from stripping the valuable lead from the county's historic churches.
As part of the scheme, which cost £250,000, specialist alarms have been installed in at least 70 churches in the area, with considerable results.
Figures from Norfolk Police show that lead thefts at churches fell drastically from 48 in the two years prior to the scheme being launched, to 26 in the following two years after it was implemented, the Eastern Daily Press reports.
Lead thefts have a devastating impact on church buildings and the congregations that worship in them, with repairs often running into the thousands.
The damage can take years to fix and in especially tragic cases, some churches have completed repairs only to have their lead roof stolen for a second time.
The Archdeacon of Norfolk, the Venerable Steven Betts, said: "The partnership with the Police and Crime Commissioner and other donors means the vast majority of our vulnerable churches are now protected by alarms.
"This not only provides reassurance for the communities in which the churches are located but also helps to reduce crime and the threat of crime.
"My hope and prayer would be that the alarms simply would not be necessary, but unfortunately they are and have been very effective in helping to protect churches to ensure they remain welcoming centres in their towns and villages."
Norfolk's Police and Crime Commissioner Lorne Green, who helped to launch the scheme, welcomed the reduction in church lead thefts but warned against complacency.
He said: "It is reassuring to hear that since the scheme was launched the police have recorded a near 50pc drop in reports of lead theft, however this does not mean we should rest on our laurels.
"We must do all we can to prevent these sacred places being targeted, including by equipping as many as possible with vital alarm systems to prevent such crime and protect our local communities."