Worst time of year for farm burglaries
Farmers are being warned that this is statistically the worst time of the year for rural burglaries.
And it is feared that the rising cost of energy could make stores of heating oil particularly attractive to thieves targeting the countryside.
Rural crime costs private landowners, rural businesses and individual householders millions of pounds a year – and with the clocks going back last weekend the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) warned people should be even more aware of the need to protect their property.
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It has warned farmers and landowners that October and November are statistically the two months in the year where police receive more reports of burglaries than any other time – but CLA South West director, John Mortimer, says he wants to stress that the fight against rural crime is a two-way street which requires action from the rural population as well as the police. "Remote rural areas present plentiful opportunity for thieves. Isolated houses and buildings, less lighting, fewer witnesses and the ease of being able to watch the owner's movements all add up to a very attractive target for thieves – and each year, as soon as the clocks go back, we seem to experience a spike in crime in the countryside.
"This winter, with higher heating oil costs and people already struggling to pay bills, we are concerned that we could see a bigger increase than usual."
It is a topic that was raised during home affairs questions in Parliament on Monday by Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.
He asked a question of policing minister Damian Green.
He said: "One of the stubborn points that I hear from my constituents is that although crime is dropping, which is obviously welcome, rural crime is still not coming under control.
"Will the Minister please take a very close look at the police community support officers?
"Most of the stolen property turns up in Exeter or Bristol. If we had the resources for PCSOs, we would be able to detail a lot more of the thefts that are going on across places such as Exmoor, get some of the stuff back and deter these criminals if they thought they were going to get caught when they get back with the stuff that they had stolen."
Mr Green said: "I am happy to tell my honourable friend and the house that in Avon and Somerset crime is down 21 per cent since June 2010. We should pay tribute to the police in Avon and Somerset for doing that. I will look carefully at the recommendations that my honourable friend makes about rural crime."
Mr Mortimer said in his warning to farmers that relying on the farm dog was not enough.
"Beating rural crime will involve farmers and landowners taking some ownership of the problem and ensuring that they have taken every possible precaution to make the criminals' lives difficult.
"Protecting property need not be complicated but it does need to be effective."
Top of the rural crime list – which is estimated to cost farmers and landowners more than £50 million a year – is the theft of machinery, such as quad bikes and other transportable equipment.
Mr Mortimer says that owners can have a real impact on this by reviewing their security arrangements, fitting better locks and ensuring that their machines have trackers fitted.
"Sheep and cattle rustling, fly tipping, hare coursing, poaching and metal theft all feature on the rural crime hit list
"People can always get crime prevention advice from their local police forces, but individuals also need to think about what they can do.
"We suggest they take a look around and look for weak or vulnerable spots such as areas in permanent darkness or whether their oil tank is secure and whether equipment such as strimmers and chain saws are marked and locked away.
"Although crime in general is falling, rural crime is on the increase – even though we know that it is being under-reported.
"Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy but if we want to get rid of the scourge of rural crime then we have to meet it head on and have confidence in the police to deal with it and make sure we report it to them when it happens."