Fear and anxiety is continuing to rise among the farming community because of rural crime, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has said. NFU Mutual has released its Rural Crime Report 2020 which revealed the cost of rural theft in Northern Ireland was £3.3m in 2019, an increase of 18%.
The report highlights that the significant upsurge in the cost of rural crime is because criminal gangs targeted expensive tractors, quads, and livestock. The ongoing organised thefts have left those living in rural, isolated areas, fearful that rural crime could escalate even further due to the economic impact of coronavirus (COVID-19).
UFU president Victor Chestnutt said: “It’s disappointing to see such a sharp rise in the value of rural theft in NFU Mutual’s Rural Crime Report 2020. It stresses that much more needs to be done to tackle the issue. The financial loss of rural crime can threaten the livelihoods of farming families overnight not to mention have a lasting impact on their well-being. Many farmers and rural dwellers across the country are living in constant fear, unable to gain peace of mind in their own homes and farms because of these reoccurring thefts by criminal gangs.
“The farming community has already endured so much this year with COVID-19. They have been working endlessly to produce high-quality food for the nation, while trying to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Now there are serious concerns that because of the impact COVID-19 is having on the Northern Ireland economy, rural crime will increase going forward and could become an unwanted reality for many farmers.”
The UFU is a member of the Northern Ireland Rural Crime Partnership (RCP) along with representatives from the Department of Justice (DoJ), the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Federation of Small Businesses NI (FSBNI) Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) and NFU Mutual. The Partnership meets to discuss rural crime and share best practice to deter criminals, and NFU Mutual’s Rural Crime Report 2020 will help the partnership to consider further measures to tackle the financial increase of rural theft.
The UFU encourages members to take practical steps to help prevent rural crime such as joining their local Farm Watch scheme and to avail of rural crime initiatives such as trailer marking.
“Farmers and rural dwellers need to work together with the PSNI and wider local community, reporting all incidences of rural crime and sharing any information that may be useful including strange behaviour with the PSNI. Together we can stop the activities of rural thieves.
“I also encourage farmers to step up security on their farms. Make sure all farm machinery and vehicles are safely locked away, especially those of high value, and regardless of the time of day, never leave a tractor or quad sitting unattended with the keys in the ignition or close by. Record details of all your farm machinery, take photographs and consider investing in tracking systems. The simplest safety measures can make the greatest difference in combating rural crime.
“Meanwhile the UFU will continue to lobby the Department of Justice, and its partner agencies, to ensure that when rural thieves are brought before the courts the sentences handed down to them are reflective of the scale and impact of their actions,” said the UFU president.