Rural Crime Costing the Countryside Millions

Rural crime is costing those who live and work in the Scottish countryside almost £2million – and the bill could go higher.

Giving evidence to the Justice Committee in the Scottish Parliament (Tuesday, 24 February), 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 the regions of Scotland remote areas are no longer immune and, as a result, many working in land-based industries will have been victims of rural crime. Figures from NFU Mutual suggest that the cost of rural crime increased in Midlothian, Ayrshire, Inverness-shire, Fife, and Dunbartonshire between 2012 and 2013. A year-on-year increase was also recorded in Perthshire, Clackmannanshire and Banffshire in this time.

However, with no collective recording of rural crime incidents by Police Scotland, an overall picture is difficult to assess.    In his evidence session, 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.

“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.  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.

“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. Measures may 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 in the unfortunate situation that these items are stolen.

“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 beyond figures reported to Police Scotland and anecdotal evidence. Often, the low-level theft of smaller items such as tools and machinery parts will go undetected and therefore unreported by the farmer. Unfortunately, a number of NFUS members – particularly those on the urban fringe - have expressed fears that if they do report instances of crime on their land, there will be further, and potentially more serious, repercussions.

“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.

“The majority of these schemes are run by Neighbourhood Watch Scotland in conjunction with Police Scotland and often with input from rural organisations like NFUS. Sharing alerts and crime prevention information relating specifically to farms and rural areas keeps everyone on their toes.

“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.

“NFUS enjoys a good working relationship with Police Scotland, and meets regularly with liaison officers to assess what measures can be put in place to prevent and protect members from becoming victims of rural crime. Whilst members appreciate that police resources are stretched, members regularly express frustration that police know who the perpetrators of rural crimes are yet do not have the power, available manpower nor resource to respond quickly to calls or take proactive action to stop it happening again.”

Note to editors

  • A copy of NFU Scotland’s submission to the Justice Committee is available by emailing or by calling 0131 472 4108.


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 37/15

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