As the cost of rural crime continues to rise, the NFU is urging the government to take action and treat rural crime as a priority issue for rural communities. Charlotte Cunningham reports.

At a recent roundtable meeting between the NFU, Defra, Home Office, police and other rural organisations, the NFU continued to press for legislative change that would make it easier for police to catch and prosecute criminals.

As farmers reach the end of harvest, hare coursers will once again appear on remote farmland to carry out this illegal activity. Changes to the archaic 1831 Game Act is a simple example of bringing legislation into the 21st Century and making it fit for purpose, says the NFU.

Currently, legislation relating to hare coursing doesn’t consistently give police and courts full seizure and forfeiture powers for dogs and vehicles, which are crucial elements of this illegal activity.

They also can’t recover kenneling costs when dogs have been seized, and fines are capped at low levels. It’s the NFU’s belief that amending the law on hare coursing to give police and courts these powers would be a significant boost to properly enforcing the law and making it more difficult for criminals to reoffend.

Long-lasting effects

NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts said: “The impacts of rural crime aren’t just simply financial for a farmer, they are emotional and can have long-lasting effects on farming families. We must remember that farms are not just places of work, they are homes too.

“I’m consistently hearing from farmers that rural crime is on the rise and getting worse. Whether it’s mass hare coursing events or industrial scale fly-tipping, it’s clear that organised criminals are behind these acts.

“It’s about time the government gave rural crime the attention that it deserves and it’s shameful that one of the crucial laws intended to combat rural crime is centuries old. Simple changes to legislation could give the police the power they need to properly enforce the law and crack down on rural crime.”

Threats of violence

NFU chief land management adviser Sam Durham, who attended the roundtable, added: “The end of harvest time should be a celebration for arable farmers but instead it marks the beginning of the hare coursing season, which brings with it threats of violence and intimidation.

“We heard from the police at the roundtable that the tools at their disposal are simply unsuitable and that there needs to be a change to the law to make a real difference. If there is to be lasting change when it comes to tackling rural crime, it needs to come in the form of legislation that will help the police, not hinder them.

“It’s been three years since the NFU highlighted many of these issues in its Combatting Rural Crime Report and many farmers are reporting they have seen little change in that time. We’re pleased that Defra and the Home Office are listening to our concerns but farmers have had enough and want to see meaningful action.”