NEW ANALYSIS by the Country Land and Business Association reveals that police forces are failing to recognise the detrimental effects of rural crime.
Fly-tipping, machinery or livestock theft, hare coursing and vandalism of farm infrastructure is estimated to cost the economy £44.5m per year.
Rural crime has affected Hampshire and Surrey this year – there was the theft of a quad bike and a chainsaw from a building in East Meon in January, a ram raid in which clothes were stolen from the Forest Lodge Garden Centre in Holt Pound in February, and the fly-tipping of a skip load of rubbish in the National Trust Witley Common car park in March.
Last year the Surrey Wildlife Trust spent nearly £50,000 clearing up more than 100 incidents of fly-tipping on its nature reserves.
The research, which scrutinised the activities of 38 rural police forces across England and Wales, shows that 37 per cent lack a dedicated rural crime strategy, 39 per cent do not have a rural crime team and only 28 per cent give rural crime training to new recruits.
It also revealed that 27 per cent do not have a police officer of inspector rank or above leading rural crime.
Only 53 per cent of rural police forces across England and Wales have dedicated rural crime prevention tools, such as 4x4s, trail bikes, night vision equipment or drones.
The analysis builds on previously published figures which show the average cost of a rural crime incident is £4,800, with each fly-tipping occurrence costing more than £1,000 to clear up. Half of rural business owners state that crime has a ‘moderate’ to ‘great’ impact on their lives, and 60 per cent are ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ worried about becoming a victim of crime.
The Country Land and Business Association South East represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Surrey, Kent, Sussex, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.
Regional director Robin Edwards said: “Surrey Police is already doing a lot of good work fighting rural crime, with plans to develop a dedicated strategy currently in progress.
"It also recently announced an uplift in rural officers, including 11 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) focusing on rural areas.
“This is to be welcomed – they need to make sure tackling rural crime is at the forefront of their work, communicating and consulting with residents and businesses to build links and shared working.”
Country Land and Business Association president Tim Breitmeyer said: “That a third of rural police forces do not have a dedicated strategy or team to deal with rural crime is quite simply astounding – especially when one considers the huge financial and emotional impact it has on those who live or work in the countryside.
“Farming is a stressful business where many are working on tight margins. Having to deal with replacing lost machinery, repairing a vandalised barn, or clearing up and bearing the cost of someone else’s fly-tipped mess, just adds unnecessary stress, eats away at meagre profits and takes up valuable time.”
Responding, both Surrey Police and Hampshire Constabulary have defended their records on dealing with rural crime.
Surrey’s wildlife, rural and heritage officer PC Hollie Iribar said: “Surrey Police understands that we need to improve the way we deal with rural crime. It has an enormous impact on business, the wellbeing of communities and livestock, and should not be underestimated.
“It’s just as important as any other crime and in many cases links directly to organised networks and is another tactic available to us to stop matters escalating.
“We are providing more training to existing officers about rural crime and we are also looking to recruit dedicated rural crime Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs).”
Hampshire’s Insp Korine Bishop said: “We are fortunate to have a dedicated wildlife and rural crime team, known as the Country Watch team, made up of an inspector, a sergeant, seven constables, three police staff investigators and six special constables, supported by more than 50 volunteers.
“With partners, we carry out a number of joint operations to tackle issues affecting our rural communities, including rural theft and burglary, illegal fly-tipping, use of illegal waste carriers, poaching, hare coursing and other wildlife offences.”