Surge in rural crime across the South East costing industry £8.7m

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Charlotte Wilkins

New figures have revealed the devastating impact of rising rural crime on families and businesses across the South East.

According to a report by the insurers NFU Mutual, losses in the South East totalled £8.7 million last year, with rural crime across the country at its highest level for eight years.

A farmer from West Sussex, where the cost of rural crime has risen by 76% within one year, says he's lost thousands of pounds and is constantly falling victim to thefts, flytipping and poaching.

£8.7 million

was the cost of rural crime to the South East in 2019

Mark Chandler's farm has been targeted by criminals several times a year for the last four years. 

With farming machinery becoming increasingly high tech, the theft of expensive items such as GPS systems for tractors can have a devastating effect.

Mark said: "If they get stolen then the result for the farmer is we can't go to work the next day, it's like a carpenter having his saw taken, it's that important, because we have such a small window to get these jobs done. We've had a poor winter and a dry spring, when it's good to go we have to go. The cost of not being able to go to work the next day is worse than having the thing stolen. It takes 3-5 days for those to get fixed and replaced and it's time we can't afford to lose."

Credit: ITV News

Figures released by NFU Mutual show that rural crime is rising, from flytipping and poaching to the more serious theft of livestock and farm machinery.

Helen Kirby, from NFU Mutual, says that these days it's "very much organised criminal gangs".

She added: "This is way beyond petty thieving now. We've seen a number of incidents where vehicles have been recovered overseas. We had an operation last year which seized six high value vehicles from Poland." 

Sussex Police now has a dedicated rural crime team in response to the rise. Credit: ITV News

Sussex Police has responded to the rise by setting up a dedicated rural crime team of 16 police officers.

The force holds specific days of action to stop criminals leaving the county.

Having officers that understand the crime and can join the dots up when reports come in, enables them to see patterns in those reports which is great news for those who live in rural communities.

Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner

But farmers say there is still lots of work to do, but by ramping up security measures and working with the specialist rural crime team it is hoped that progress will continue to be made.