Rural crime

Is the idyll of Britain’s sleepy countryside hiding the truth about rural crime?

Crime rates in rural areas may be lower than in Britain’s big cities but there is growing evidence that the impact on businesses is greater than portrayed.

There remains a perception in British society that rural communities are safe and prosperous places, free of the kind of crime – and fears of crime – which raise their head in urban regions. However, a 2018 National Rural Crime Survey, published by the National Rural Crime Network, suggests that much rural crime goes unreported and overlooked. As a result, rural businesses – and the authorities – may be underestimating the risks.

A spokesperson for the National Rural Crime Network said: “We believe that the scale, cost, social impact and other effects of crime in rural areas are underestimated, under-reported and not fully understood. Problems typically associated with the countryside include wildlife and heritage crime, farm equipment and animal thefts. However, there have been very substantial increases in fraud and other scams, with criminals deliberately targeting isolated, vulnerable people. Whilst the volume of crime in rural areas is very often lower than in urban locations, its consequences can be equally impactful and profoundly undermine feelings of personal safety.”

The survey, which polled more than 20,000 people, suggests the average financial impact of crime on rural businesses is £4,800 – up 13 per cent on 2015.

The 2018 results also showed:

  • A third of people in rural communities believe that crime has a moderate or great impact on their lives.
  • 69 per cent of farmers and rural-specific business owners have been a victim of crime over the past 12 months.
  • 60 per cent are fairly or very worried about becoming a victim of crime in the future.
  • Since 2015 the number of crimes going unreported to the police has increased by a third for residents and by two-thirds for businesses in rural areas.

These figures, and the way rural business owners feel about the impact of crime, are important to the insurance industry too. Not least because rural crime can impact insurance premiums, food prices and local communities.

Types of rural crime

Police say rural crime tends to fall into one of four categories: agricultural, equine, wildlife or heritage. But environmental crime, which covers illegal waste dumping, fly tipping, polluting watercourses and land, is also a key consideration. In fact, the National Rural Crime Survey suggested fly-tipping and speeding were two of the biggest concerns for rural respondents, even above burglary and theft.

For businesses, rural crime is clearly an ongoing concern.

The Country Land and Business Association regularly meets with police forces across the country to discuss the issue and publishes regional newsletters on its website.

Hare coursing, where dogs are used to chase, catch and kill hares with participants gambling on the outcome, often peaks following harvest when large areas of land have been cleared of crops – making it easier to travel across farmland.

Tim Breitmeyer, president of the CLA, the membership organisation for owners of land, property and businesses in rural England and Wales, believes it is a serious issue. He said: “It is a misconception for people to think this is a minor crime in the countryside. Those involved in hare coursing are hardened criminals – often using threats, intimidation and in some cases violence, against anyone who questions or challenges their actions. These criminals don’t think twice about trespassing on land, damaging crops and property.  Nor do they give any consideration to the welfare of the hares involved, or the poor dogs frequently abandoned after the chase.”

Fly-tipping can also result in significant costs for business owners and can be a danger to animals too.

“Fly-tipping is not a victimless crime,” says Rebecca Williams, CLA’s Wales director. “Our research has revealed the shocking high average cost of £844 to clean up fly-tipped waste on private land. Almost two-thirds of farmers and landowners have been affected by fly-tipping in Wales and England – over half of them agree that this is a significant issue in their area.”

Other rural crimes are more clear-cut. Thieves regularly target farm equipment, vehicles and trailers, for instance.

Advice to prevent rural crime

Police have urged farmers to be more vigilant and to ensure all equipment is marked and locked. Machines fitted and registered with certain security markings are four times less likely to be stolen and six times more likely to be recovered if they are stolen.

Assistant Chief Constable Nicola Ross of Thames Valley Police said: “Recent history shows that even with tracking devices, quads and other vehicles are being taken with the keys in the ignition. Basic crime prevention is important – don’t leave valuables in vehicles, don’t leave windows open, don’t leave the keys in vehicles.”

Some of the advice to farmers from Dorset Police includes:

  • Ensure that any trailers or towable machinery have suitable locks and a wheel clamp
  • Remove wheels on boxes if they are going to remain unused for a long period.
  • Chain trailers to the floor
  • Have trailers marked with a security marking scheme such as Datatag
  • Insurance discounts may be available, so check with your insurer
  • Fit an alarm to deter thieves
  • Record the trailer serial numbers and photograph for reference – this increases the chances of recovery in case of theft

It’s still safer outside of the big cities

Living in a rural area does, of course, have its advantages over city life. Many people are passionate about their way of life in the countryside and it would be wrong to suggest that crime is more prevalent outside of big cities – the opposite is true.

Government statistics for 2016-17 show average crime rates are still far lower in rural areas than in urban regions:

  • The rate of violence against the person was 14.1 per 1,000 population in rural areas compared with 22.2 in urban areas.
  • The rate of sexual offences was 1.7 per 1,000 population in the countryside and 2.2 in urban regions.
  • The rate of recorded crime was also lower in rural areas for crimes such as robbery, domestic burglary and vehicle offences. For instance, there were 3.9 vehicle offences per 1,000 population in rural areas compared to 8.5 in urban areas.

But having the right insurance in place is vital to mitigate the risk of rural crime

Many rural businesses and trades struggle to obtain competitive terms due to a lack of understanding of rural risks. But using an expert in rural insurance can provide access to specialist products and allow businesses to tailor cover and pricing depending on their needs.

Access to a dedicated rural account manager, who will work closely with clients on every aspect of their insurance, from initial discussion and recommendations about coverage improvements to assisting with a claim, is key.