Farmers block fields and dig ditches to 'fight back' against rural crime

PCSO Sharon Caws, left, and Sgt Danny Leach, on Norfolk police quad bikes

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has called for more police resources to tackle rural crime across East Anglia - Credit: Denise Bradley

Farming leaders have called on Norfolk's next police commissioner to boost resources to tackle rural crime after a survey revealed the severity of its impact across East Anglia. 

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) survey shows the most common rural crimes in the region are hare coursing and fly-tipping, followed by trespassing and thefts.

Of the 252 respondents from East Anglia who were victims of crime in 2020, 10pc say it has cost their business £10,000 or more. The average financial loss per farm was £5,100.

The survey also revealed the steps farmers are taking to protect their businesses, including blocking field entrances (78pc), digging ditches around fields (45pc), upgrading building security (66pc) and installing CCTV (49pc). 

One farmer said: “Rural crime is like an additional tax on the business, as we are constantly spending money upgrading security.” 

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Another told the NFU: “It is now impossible to grow food without people driving on crops and damaging them.” 

The research was conducted to help assess the level of rural crime ahead of the elections for Norfolk's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) on May 6

NFU East Anglia regional director Gary Ford 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. 

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“However, the survey also shows the rural community is fighting back, introducing additional security measures to farms and working more closely with the police. 

“Many members appreciate the response they receive from the police on rural crime but feel that rural teams are under-funded and under-resourced.” 

The survey included questions on how farmers are working with the police to help reduce rural crime.  

More than a third say they have regular contact with the police outside of reporting crime, including face-to-face meetings and attendance at events. They are also making use of new technology, such as WhatsApp messaging, to share information with the police. 

NFU East Anglia regional director Gary Ford

NFU East Anglia regional director Gary Ford - Credit: Pagepix

Mr Ford said: “Crimes like hare coursing, fly-tipping, dog attacks on livestock and theft of large and small machinery have left rural residents feeling more vulnerable. They also have knock-on effects on farm businesses. 

“Despite this, rural areas continue to receive lower levels of police funding, per head of population, than urban areas."

Mr Ford said the NFU is asking all PCC candidates to "ensure rural policing receives the resources it needs" and commit to prioritising rural crime as a strategic objective in their Police and Crime Plan.

The NFU has published the results of its rural crime survey

The NFU has published the results of its rural crime survey - Credit: NFU

PC Chris Shelley, a rural crime officer for Norfolk police, said the constabulary had built positive links with countryside businesses and communities.

He said: "We have very positive relationships with the NFU and other key stakeholders.

"We are fully aware that fly-tipping is a constant blight on rural communities and we are trying to engage more with other partners and councils who deal with it. For hare coursing, we are looking at well over a 50pc reduction in incidents year on year, so that is another positive sign.

"But it is good to see that farmers are taking the advice we are issuing to protect themselves from rural crime, things like marking equipment and installing CCTV."

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