Rural crime is costing those who live and work in the Scottish countryside almost £2 million – and the bill could go higher.
Giving evidence recently to the Justice Committee in the Scottish Parliament Linlithgow farmer Jamie Smart, who chairs NFU Scotland’s Legal and Technical committee, said crime in rural parts has been rising – some of it opportunistic, but incidents of more organised activity are becoming more common.
Although instances of rural crime vary greatly between regions, remote areas are no longer immune and, as a result, many working in land-based industries will have been victims of rural crime.
However, with no collective recording of rural crime incidents by Police Scotland, an overall picture is difficult to assess.
Mr Smart said: “The countryside by its nature can make farms and rural dwellings a ‘soft target’ for opportunistic thieves. However, increasingly there are reports of large-scale organised criminals targeting areas for high-value machinery, vehicles and materials.
“Leading agricultural insurer NFU Mutual’s most recent Rural Crime Survey estimated that criminal activity cost those that live in Scotland’s countryside around £1.9 million in 2013 alone. It is reasonable to expect this to be higher when 2014 figures are available.
“The most common items targeted by thieves in Scotland over the last 12 months were quad bikes, tools and fuel such as domestic heating oil and farmers’ supplies of ‘red’ diesel. Although high-value thefts of machinery such as tractors may be planned and highly organised, the number of stolen tools, gates and wire indicates opportunist thieves continue to operate.
“NFU Mutual has also identified livestock rustling as an emerging crime across the UK, with over 4,200 animals – mainly sheep – reported stolen in Scotland in 2013.”
Mr Smart added that with farm thefts being the most common of crime reports, and farms having multiple points of entry, NFUS is advising members to take preventative measures to deter thieves and lower opportunities for thefts.
These can include the construction of barriers to stop thieves getting close to property, such as perimeter fences; regularly checking padlocks and locks; considering the installation of CCTV and/or alarm systems; and marking property such as vehicles and machinery to make it as distinct and identifiable as possible to ensure a quicker return if items are stolen.
He also highlighted a lack of joined-up reporting and recording of rural crime, which makes it difficult to form an accurate picture of its scale across regions.
He added: “It is worth highlighting that successful Farm Watch schemes are in operation across a number local authority areas across Scotland – Aberdeenshire, Moray, the Highlands, Angus, Perth, the Lothians, Argyll and Bute, Fife, Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway.
“NFUS considers that if a national scheme were to be rolled out using the Farm Watch model, it would go some way in making rural communities feel safer, and would provide an extremely useful reporting system which could see a drop in the amount of rural crime in time.
“However, a national roll-out of this kind would require a commitment of significant resources, none of which any of the agencies currently involved are in a position to provide.
“NFUS encourages MSPs to consider this scheme further and how the Scottish Government could support this tool in the fight-back against rural crime.”