As with many rural areas across the UK, rural crime is having a major impact on farmer's businesses, but also their mental health. According to NFU Mutual, livestock theft across the country costs farmers over £2.4 million a year, whilst theft of quad bikes is estimated to cost £2.3m and other agricultural vehicle theft over £5m. In the past year, there has been a 9% increase in rural crime, with a price tag estimated at £54m. Almost 70% of farmers and rural businesses have experienced criminal acts within a 12-month period.
'These figures are shocking and depressing enough for farmers" commented Mark Christie, Liberal Democrat candidate for Cumbria Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner in the forthcoming election in May 2021. "This is a national problem, and Cumbria is just as much affected as anywhere else. It's not just theft - there are a range of other crimes that affect farmers and other rural businesses, including the scourge of fly tipping, online scams, and damage to property. As Cumbria's PCC I would ensure we consult widely with the farming community and other rural business owners to find the most effective ways of supporting their work and both preventing crime and improving detection rates and bringing perpetrators to book".
In addition, Mark proposes a number of potential solutions as part of a set of rural roadshows to assist businesses, including, but not exclusively: more visible policing of rural communities; raising awareness of the need to report crimes by rural people and the support they can access if a victim of crime; encouraging the fitting of clamps and immobilisers to farm machinery; promoting the need for secure fencing and alarms on fuel tanks; security tagging expensive tools and storing them in more secure containers; and being innovative in ways of reducing the chances of criminal gangs accessing properties, for example through use of earthworks along field boundaries to prevent 4x4 vehicle access by criminals, high yard fences and the use of ingested electronic boluses to trace livestock theft. "There's a considerable
amount of good practice we can look at from both home and abroad to tackle this problem" says Mark. "Whilst there can be a price tag for such measures, this is nothing compared to the costs associated with replacing items time and time again".
Most of the crime in rural areas is caused by organised criminal gangs, that have started to move out of urban areas to target what they believe are softer and less protected rural targets. Increasingly, they are using more sophisticated approaches to breaking and entering into property. "We can all help by being vigilant" says Mark, "and reporting any unusual behaviour to the police. Often these gangs stake out properties for a length of time before committing crime, so there are opportunities for these crimes to be prevented if people are more aware of the scale of the problem. Gangs target farms because they know they will be expensive pieces of farm machinery on site - but they're also targeting small, high-value equipment, including expensive GPS kit which is then sold on the black market."
Mark is also concerned about the impacts on rural business owners and their mental health. "The 'hidden cost' is the mental health trauma farmers suffer as a result of these thefts and the fear of being burgled. Theft, burglaries, damage to property and livestock rustling cause immense stress to farmers trying to make a living. This in turn affects their ability to contribute to our local and regional economy. We need to make sure anyone affected gets timely support and access to mental health services as soon as possible. The fear of being a victim of crime has a huge impact on people's mental health, and in extreme cases has led to suicide. This cannot be allowed to continue unchecked".
Mark points to a recent National Rural Crime Survey that highlights how rural businesses and people feel isolated, ignored and living in fear due to the spike in rural crime.
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