MORE than one third of farm businesses in the East of England have suffered from crime in the last year – and about a quarter of crimes are unreported.
Those are the key findings of a survey of NFU members carried out to gauge the extent of crime in the countryside.
Between March 2011 and March 2012, 35 per cent of farm businesses surveyed had experienced crime. Theft was the most common, with 28 per cent of those surveyed having one or more thefts.
Farm machinery, tools, fuel and metal were among items targeted by thieves. Burglaries occurred on six per cent of farms with four per cent of farms reporting hare coursing or fly tipping.
Many farmers commented that the police do their best with the resources available, but more than a third felt they did not take sufficient action when a crime was reported.
NFU regional director Pamela Forbes said: “Rural crime remains a blight on the countryside. We are concerned, but sadly not surprised, that so many of our members have been affected in the past 12 months.
“However, the survey also shows the rural community is fighting back. It suggests that about one third of our members are in farm watch schemes, with most of the schemes set up in the past five years.
“We know the police are under huge financial pressure across our region and that pressure is growing. We need to work with them and other agencies to ensure criminals don’t find easy pickings in the countryside.”
In all, 73 per cent of crimes experienced by respondents were reported to the police. Crimes of burglary, arson, animal feed theft and criminal damage from vehicles to land were all reported. Metal theft and fly-tipping were among those least likely to be reported. Fenland farmer Richard Angood believes it is vital that farmers act as the eyes and ears of police in the countryside.
The NFU member, who farms at Chatteris, is a committee member of Cambridgeshire Countryside Watch and encourages other farmers to get involved.
“The more eyes and ears there is watching and noting information the more chance we have of reducing rural crime,” he said.
“If a vehicle comes in the driveway you should note the number down and keep a record of it. If someone comes in asking if you have any scrap metal, or offering tools for sale, note their details down. Make the police aware of anything suspicious that goes on by dialling 101. It is all about coordination and working together to tackle rural crime.”
Mr Angood said he believed that metal and fuel thefts were the most common farm-related crimes taking place in Cambridgeshire.
“We are working to make our farms ever more secure. If the thieves can get in they will take something,” he said.
CIB Tactical Team Inspector Ian Ford said: “Cambridgeshire Constabulary recognises that rural crime is of real concern to NFU members in the county. We remain committed in tackling rural crime as a priority and have re-designed the Rural Crime Team, improving its capacity to develop intelligence and tackle emerging trends.
“Individual responses to reports of crime are managed via colleagues within policing districts while the Rural Crime Team, as part of the wider CIB Tactical Team, will concentrate on tackling and disrupting offenders, crime gangs and specialist wildlife crime, including hare coursing.
“The force now has the capability to direct a greater number of resources, at short notice, to an identified rural issue. The constabulary remains committed to working with our partners, including Countryside Watch and NFU, to ensure the most effective outcome is achieved.
“It is clear that the police alone cannot eradicate rural crime and we would encourage NFU members to continue to report any crime and suspicious activity which will better inform our response.”
The NFU will send the survey results to candidates ahead of elections for the new county Police and Crime Commissioners, due to take place in November. It will be to challenging candidates in their election manifestoes to make commitments that will assist rural areas and the farming community.