East’s farmers count the cost of rural crime

Farmer George Gittus shows an incident of fly-tipping on land near Bury St Edmunds

Farmer George Gittus showing items dumped on a farming neighbour's land just recently - Credit: Symonds Farm

East Anglia’s farmers are losing an average of around £5,100 a year as a result of a rural crime wave, a survey has found.

Hare coursing, fly-tipping, burglary and theft are among the challenges the region’s agricultural community faces — and the cost is mounting, an National Farmers’ Union (NFU) rural crime survey has found.

Hundreds of NFU members took part in the survey covering crime in 2020. Of the 252 polled who were victims of crime in East Anglia over the that period, 10% said it had cost their business a staggering £10k or more.

One farmer described it as “like an additional tax on the business, as we are constantly spending money upgrading security”. Another said: “It is now impossible to grow food without people driving on crops and damaging them.”

The study was conducted by the NFU’s research team to gauge the level of the problem ahead of Police and Crime Commissioner elections on May 6.

NFU 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.

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

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

Almost two thirds of respondents (64%) believe rural crime has increased over the past year, while just over half (51%) feel not very or not at all secure from crime. More than half (54%) say that insufficient police resources are allocated to tackling it.

Farmers are adopting a range of measures to prevent or reduce the problem, the survey found. 

A large proportion (78%) had blocked field entrances, dug ditches around fields (45%), upgraded building security (66%) and installed CCTV (49%).

More than one third (35%) said they had regular contact with police outside of reporting crime, including face-to-face meetings and attendance at NFU-organised events. They are also making use of new technology, such as WhatsApp, to share information with the police.

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.

“We will be using the survey findings in our discussions with Police and Crime Commissioner candidates to help ensure rural policing receives the resources it needs, and rural communities deserve.”

The NFU is asking all PCC candidates to recognise the severity of the issue and commit to prioritising rural crime as a strategic objective in their Police and Crime Plan.