Progress | Centre-left Labour politics
Countryside in Britain

The ignored scourge of rural crime

Tonnes of waste are regularly dumped in our countryside, but rural police forces do not have the resources to protect our environment, reveals Guy Smith

Imagine waking up in the morning and opening your door to tonnes of rubbish dumped in your garden or on your front doorstep. How would you feel? I can tell you. It would be anger, frustration and surprise. Unfortunately for farmers, this no longer comes as a surprise.

I frequently walk round my farm and find plenty of fly-tipped rubbish. This is not the odd bin bag but three to four tonnes of waste recklessly dumped in my gateway or in ditches. The culprits? Unprofessional gangs who specialise in tarmacking domestic properties.

This is just an illustration of what happens on my farm, but this is happening to farmers all across the country. These criminals think nothing of breaking through gates and tipping their loads onto our beautiful countryside. The cost to them is merely the fuel in their van. For farmers, the costs can run into the tens of thousands to clear this from our environment.

These incidents are not isolated, latest government figures show a 43 per cent rise in incidents involving ‘significant or multi-loads’ of waste. There are nearly a million incidents of fly-tipping each year.

The landscapes farmers work with are some of the most outstanding in the world. It is a great shame that they are being used as a dumping ground for criminal gangs.

Fly-tipping is just one aspect of crime in the countryside, hare coursing is another. Farmers are passionate about the beautiful British countryside and many of us will be creating habitat for hares and other wildlife. It is ironic that these conservation efforts actually make farms a magnet for gangs who set their dogs on hares for sport or gambling.

To give you an idea, I have had them break down fences, bringing with them violence and intimidation. In my case, one of these incidents made it to court but the perpetrators left with only a slap on the wrist.

I am not alone experiencing these issues. This is happening on all farms and across the country. That is why it has become a priority for the National Farmers’ Union to make this issue heard where it matters – with members of parliament and the police. There is a perception the countryside is a soft target for crime, and this has to change.

We have long been calling for fairer funding for rural policing – we believe this is a public service that is greatly lacking resources. With the right resource, police forces can have the ability to introduce dedicated rural police teams.

It is important to understand that the farm is not just a place of work, where we produce food for the nation, but it is our home. It is where our families live.

This issue concerns us all – the countryside belongs to us all. We all take pride in our environment so it is vital we all come together to protect it from crime.

I would urge you all to think twice the next time you need to get rid of a sofa, fridge or any other waste. Do you know where it will end up? If you are not certain, ask. Otherwise it could end up in our beautiful British countryside.

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Guy Smith is deputy president of the National Famers’ Union and an arable farmer in Essex

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The NFU has launched a dedicated Rural Crime Reporting Line in partnership with Crimestoppers. You can give information anonymously about large-scale industrial fly‑tipping, hare coursing, machinery theft and livestock theft by calling 0800 783 0137 or visiting www.ruralcrimereportingline.uk.

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Guy Smith

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