Robin Edwards, South East Regional Director

This week, the National Rural Crime Network hit the headlines with a survey showing that the true cost of crime in rural areas could be in excess of £800 million.

Unfortunately, the figure will not have surprised many people living in the countryside, who have been affected by a wide range of criminal activity including the illegal dumping of waste, burglary, hare coursing and other offences.

The perception that the majority of rural crimes are small scale, relating to the theft of a chainsaw or the dumping of a bag of rubbish at the gateway to a field, has been demolished once and for all by these figures.  The survey suggests that the average cost of the crimes is more than £2,500 for a household and over £4,000 for a business. Our anecdotal evidence backs this up, with members reporting thefts of high value agricultural chemicals, or just this week, bearing the cost of a clear up of three lorry loads of tree cuttings mixed with plastic, tin cans and metal dumped on their land.

One of the major concerns I have arising from the survey, is the degree to which crime is unreported in rural areas – the survey suggests more than one in four (27%) of victims are apparently not making a report to the police. This highlights a twin problem – not only are previous statistics on rural crime potentially failing to reflect the scale of the problem, but more important, why do those affected feel contacting the police would be a waste of time or unlikely to have any effect?

Unfortunately, failing to report rural crime creates a vicious circle. Under-reporting makes rural crime figures look less of a problem than they really are and reduces the likelihood of police resources being focused on the issue.

Working together is another imperative and this is deservedly highlighted in the recommendations made by the National Rural Crime Network. At the CLA, we liaise with police forces across the South East, at a range of levels and we value this opportunity to get the rural voice heard. We would, however, welcome a more joined up approach from those involved. Many of the countryside lanes and trails across the south east act as rural motorways for crime, crossing county boundaries and the issues faced by our farmers and landowners would benefit from a more regional response.

Much good work has been done by the police in tackling rural crime but this survey highlights the scale of the problem that they need to deal with. Those of us living in the countryside have a responsibility too.  We need to report crimes when we are affected, request a crime number so that the incident is properly recorded and support the many local initiatives which are helping to combat rural crime, such as the excellent Country Eye app in Kent or the new equine rangers initiative in Sussex.

The survey has put a national spotlight on rural crime and highlighted the massive impact it has on those communities and individuals affected. Let’s hope that the recommendations it makes are now acted on, not consigned to the file of good intentions.