THE number of cannabis farms being discovered in Bolton is on the rise, with an average detection of almost two per week.

New figures reveal that, between November, 2009, and October, 2012, there were 286 cannabis farms found in the town.

The figures, which have been revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, show 66 were uncovered between November, 2009, and October, 2010, 89 for the same period to October, 2011, and 96 in the following 12 months.

Greater Manchester has been highlighted as a hotspot area by the Association of Chief Police Officers after 800 cannabis farms were found across the county from 2010 to 2012 — the seventh highest figure in the UK.

The busiest month in Bolton was December, 2011, when 14 farms were found, and The Bolton News has reported on some significant finds, several of which have also caused fires.

In May last year, a sophisticated set-up was found at a house in North Way, Hall i’th’ Wood, following a tip-off. There were 276 plants in the house with an estimated street value of more than £100,000.

In September last year, plants worth up to £500,000 were found at two houses in Morris Green.

Det Chief Insp Sarah Jackson said: “We have had some huge cannabis farms — which is organised crime and makes thousands of pounds. We are working to disrupt this activity and take back the money from these criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

“The organised crime groups use illegal immigrants, who are paid a pittance or nothing, living in squalid conditions and they tend to the crop.

“We send out a message that organised crime will not be tolerated and we act on intelligence to crack down on the farms and the criminals.

“I think the community is becoming more aware of it and we are getting more intelligence about these farms.

“People know to look out for blacked-out windows and can recognise the smell.” Lucy Dawe, a spokesman for Cannabis Skunk Sense, said: “The impact cannabis has on the community is horrendous.

“It brings dealers in and younger children are being targeted, some of whom are as young as 13, at a time when they are developing and it is proven that it is the most dangerous time to be using cannabis.

“It is a nationwide problem, but I know it is a problem in Bolton.

“Legalisation is not the way to go, as people would still have to pay for their drugs. If made legal, there would be less chance of stopping young people becoming embroiled in it at a young age.”

● A cannabis “farm” is any commercial or residential premises which has hydroponics, high intensity lighting, ventilation or extractor fans or associated equipment.

The number of plants at the house is not a factor — there could be no plants but the premises could have the appearance that it is ready to use for cultivation.