Guest blog by NFU Mutual
3 minute read
The cost of rural theft in Scotland fell 25% to an estimated £1.7m in 2020 as COVID restrictions, rural policing and beefed up farm security kept criminals out of the countryside, according to figures released by leading rural insurer, NFU Mutual.
NFU Mutual’s Rural Crime Report, published at the beginning of August, reveals that rural theft cost the whole of the UK an estimated £43.3m in 2020, a fall of 20.3% on the previous year, making it the lowest annual cost recorded in five years.
However, highly-organised criminals continued to target Scotland’s farms over the pandemic, stealing high-value tractors, quad bikes, tools and livestock.
Other rural crimes, including dog attacks on livestock and fly-tipping rose sharply in 2020. NFU Mutual claims data shows the cost of dog attacks on sheep and cattle continued to worsen this year with a UK rise of 50% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year.
Fly-tipping in fields, gateways and country lanes reached epidemic proportions as waste recycling centres restricted access, leaving farmers to deal with the clean-up and risks to their health and that of their livestock and the environment.
Mark McBrearty, NFU Mutual Regional Manager in Scotland, said: “Coronavirus restrictions, dedicated rural policing and beefed-up security on farms provided a welcome fall in rural thefts last year.
“While lockdown may have locked some criminals out of the countryside – rural crime hasn’t gone away. Thieves are now returning armed with new tactics and targets. As the economic impact of the pandemic bites, we are very concerned that rural theft may escalate significantly.
“There’s no doubt that when we work together with police, rural communities, NFU Scotland and other rural organisations to tackle rural crime it can make a real difference. That’s why we’re working closely with the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) to provide additional funding, share information and help protect property through marking.
“We believe this is vital support because rural crime isn’t just about money to replace stolen tractors. It causes disruption, seriously affects farmers’ mental well-being and destroys the trust which enables rural communities to flourish.”
This year NFU Mutual is investing over £64,000 in the fight against rural crime in Scotland through SPARC.
Inspector Alan Dron, National Rural Crime Coordinator at Police Scotland, said: “It’s fair to say 2020 was a year like no other and as always it is encouraging to see a decline in Scotland’s rural crime figures. Early COVID restrictions definitely contributed due to lack of movement however as restrictions eased and society was encouraged to stay local, get out into the rural communities and environments, the contribution of those living, working and enjoying these areas has also played a huge part as more incidents and suspicious behaviour was reported to policing, Rural Watch or Crimestoppers.
“The on-going work of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) and the 14 local partnerships now operating throughout the country continues to make a tangible and visible difference through better cohesion, coordination and cooperation between all relevant partners in terms of how Scotland collectively tries to prevent, reduce and tackle rural crime. Add the strong working relationships that have developed with our colleagues in Police Forces south of the border, overall it has been great to see so many criminals and organised crime groups targeting rural communities getting apprehended – long may this continue.”
NFU Scotland Vice-President, Robin Traquair added: “All aspects of rural crime remain a blight on those who live and work in Scotland’s countryside but the rural community is fighting back and becoming more resilient.
“Huge strides are being taken to address rural crime in Scotland and the work of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime, which NFU Mutual helps to fund and of which NFU Scotland is a founding member, is tackling much of this head on.
“Regional SPARC initiatives are in place across much of Scotland providing farmers and crofters with information and tips on how to combat crime at a farm level, keeping property, goods and livestock safe. NFU Scotland is pleased that so many of our members are using this information to introduce additional security measures across their businesses. It is having a very positive effect on helping prevent and tackle criminal activity.
“It remains important however that anyone who notices a strange vehicle in an unusual place or unexpected activity in the countryside takes time to report the registration number and any details to 101 and allow Police Scotland to take the matter further. Even small details may allow Police Scotland to gain a better perspective of the issues happening in and around our farms.”
Mark McBrearty added: “With more and more people using the countryside, we are urging the public to support farmers and rural communities by reporting suspicious sightings and crimes to the police. Scotland’s farmers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic keeping the nation fed and caring for the countryside and by working together, we can help stem the tide when the criminals become more active again.”
For more information on rural crime trends and advice, download the report at www.nfumutual.co.uk/ruralcrime
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