The impact that rural crime is having on farming families and farm businesses across the South West is highlighted in a new NFU member survey.
Nearly 200 members from across the region took part, with the most common crimes experienced including fly tipping, burglary, theft, hare coursing and trespass.
The average financial loss per farm for each incident of crime in the South West was £3,843, with members spending an average of £1,987 on additional security precautions.
One farmer commented: “Rural crime is like an additional tax on the business, as we have constantly spent money upgrading security.”
Another told the NFU: “It is now impossible to grow food without people driving on crops and damaging them.”
The survey was conducted by phone and online by the NFU’s in-house research team to help assess the level of rural crime, ahead of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections on 6 May
Members were also asked about any crime prevention measures introduced over the past five years and how they are working with the police to help tackle crime in the countryside.
Worryingly, around half of respondents (51%) feel that rural crime has increased over the past year while just over a third (33%) feel not very, or not at all, secure from crime. Just under half the farmers surveyed (47%) said they felt the police were not devoting sufficient resources to tackling rural crime.
Farmers are responding by taking extra crime prevention measures such as blocking field entrances (48%), upgrading building security (55%) and installing CCTV (38%).
Only 17% of members felt the police devoted sufficient resources to rural crime, with 47% saying not enough was being done.
Forty per cent of respondents said they had not reported their most recent experience of crime to the police, generally because no response was expected (60%) or the crime was felt to be too minor (40%).
Comments about the police response included: “It is something the police need to take more seriously, especially with fly-tipping during lockdown,” and “it is difficult as there are not enough police. It is nationwide problem, plus the paperwork.”
Another farmer told researchers: “The police have always been very co-operative but they are very limited because they have few resources.”
Encouragingly, nearly a third of farmers (28%) say they have regular contact with the police outside of reporting crime, including face-to-face meetings and attendance at NFU-organised events.
NFU South West regional director Melanie Squires said: “We work closely with police forces across the region, but it is clear more can be done to prioritise rural crime and make sure the problem has enough resources devoted to it.
“Rural areas continue to receive lower levels of police funding, per head of population, than urban areas.
“Police and Crime Commissioners must give more priority to rural crime as a strategic objective and work together to ensure effective cross-border policing.
“We will be using the survey results 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 rural crime survey was carried out online and via phone across 10 areas of England and Wales between 21 January and 16 March 2021. There were 1,968 respondents, including 178 from the South West.