Rural crime is costing those who live and work in the Scottish countryside almost £2million annually – and that bill may yet increase.
Giving evidence to the Justice Committee in the Scottish Parliament last week, Linlithgow farmer Jamie Smart said crime in rural areas has been rising.
Jamie, who chairs NFU Scotland’s legal and Technical committee, said some of the crime was opportunistic. But he stressed that incidents of more organised activity were becoming more common.
Although instances of rural crime vary greatly between regions in Scotland, 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.
In his evidence session, Jamie 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.
“Therefore, in rural Scotland, becoming a victim of crime – whether it is theft, fraud, or vandalism – remains a very real prospect.
“Figures suggest that threat is increasing, albeit at a slower pace in more remote areas.”
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.
Jamie added: “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.
And while 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 4200 animals – mainly sheep – reported stolen in Scotland in 2013. A spokesman said: “With farm thefts being the most common of crime reports and farms having multiple points of entry, NFUS would always advise its members to take preventative measures to deter thieves and lower opportunities for thefts.”
These include constructing barriers to stop thieves getting close to property, regularly checking padlocks and locks, installing CCTV and/or alarm systems and marking property such as vehicles and machinery to make it as distinct and identifiable as possible.
Jamie added: “Currently, there is no joined-up reporting and recording system for instances of rural crime.
“It is therefore difficult to obtain an accurate picture of the scale of rural crime between Scotland’s regions.
“Often, the theft of smaller items will go undetected and therefore unreported.”
However, successful Farm Watch schemes are in operation across Scotland.