Rural crime causing ‘high levels of anxiety’ among county’s farmers, report says

Rural crime cost Cambridgeshire £1.7million last year, according to the NFU. Picture: Chris Bishop

Rural crime cost Cambridgeshire £1.7million last year, according to the NFU. Picture: Chris Bishop - Credit: Archant

Terrified farmers fear they are under siege from thieves and are resorting to digging ditches and putting up embankments in a bid to prevent them becoming victims of rural crime, it has been claimed.

Insurance firm NFU Mutual said rural crime cost Cambridgeshire more than £1.7 million last year making it the fifth worst affected county by cost, with the value of thefts rising by 0.3 per cent over the year before.

High value tractors, quad bikes and livestock have been targeted, along with tools, gardening equipment and machinery.

Catherine Little, NFU Mutual agent in Greater Peterborough, said: "One of the most alarming findings from this year's report is that fear of crime is changing life in the countryside. From constant reports of thefts and suspicious vehicles touring the countryside and rural criminals regularly staking out farms, country people feel they are under siege.

"The report further reveals that limited police resources and repeat attacks are the biggest fears for people in rural communities, with many forced to change the way they live and work as a result of rural crime.

"Repeat attacks are causing widespread anxiety and exacerbating the problems of rural isolation amongst farmers who often work alone all day. Some farmers are so concerned about the risk of criminal attack they can no longer leave the farm with their family to attend local agricultural shows."

She said: "Farmers are combining modern technology with physical fortifications to try and keep one step ahead of the thieves.

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"Together with digging ditches and putting up earth banks to prevent criminals getting on to farm land, we're seeing electronic devices like infra-red beams which send alerts to mobile phones and geo-fencing, which triggers an alarm if tractors go beyond farm boundaries."

Ms Little said: "These technologies are proving to be effective weapons in the fight against rural crime. This is increasingly important because today's determined thieves come armed with battery-powered angle grinders which can cut through chains and padlocks in seconds to access farm buildings and tool sheds."

"The threat of becoming a victim of rural crime, and regular reports of suspicious characters watching farms is causing high levels of anxiety amongst farmers who know their rural location makes them vulnerable to attacks.

"Our advice to people living and working in the countryside is to regularly evaluate your current security measures making improvements where necessary, remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the local police and local ountryside watch schemes."

She added: "The good news is that security technology is developing fast and we're already clearly seeing that thieves avoid tractors fitted with good security kit and sheep that have been marked with microdots. Innovative use of social media to report criminal activity is also working well in some areas - and reducing isolation. There's no doubt that when police, farmers and other rural organisations tackle rural crime in an organised way they get results."

NFU Mutual said rural crime cost the UK £50m in 2018, an increase of 12 per cent on the previous year and the highest overall total in seven years. High value thefts of tractors and other farm vehicles rose by 26 per cent to £7.4 million over the year.

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire police said: "The economic cost of rural crime within Cambridgeshire has been stable over the last year, with an increase of 0.3 percent, which is set against a national rise of 12.3 percent.

"The fact that we have been able to hold this position at a time when crime is rising is testament to the level of commitment and resource that we give to tackling rural crime, with a full-time Rural Crime Action Team (RCAT).

The spokesman said: "In 2013 Cambridgeshire was the worst county in the country for rural crime and our continued fall down the league table is welcome but clearly there is no room for complacency and a lot more to be done.

"We encourage all farmers and land owners to engage with Countryside Watch who can provide excellent advice on how to make land and property more secure."