The latest column from CLA East Director Cath Crowther

The CLA continues to hold the police to account when tackling rural crime

The CLA spends considerable time meeting with police forces across our region to ensure the voice of our membership is heard loud and clear when it comes to tackling rural crime.

At both the Royal Norfolk Show and Suffolk Show this year we met with senior officers from the Norfolk and Suffolk constabularies, along with the Police and Crime Commissioners for each county, to discuss members' concerns.

Hare coursing, machinery theft, fly-tipping and livestock worrying were among the topics to be raised, as these are issues that our members are having to deal with on a regular basis.

Through Operation Galileo, a focused campaign by the police to tackle hare coursing, officers in Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex now share resources and intelligence on hare coursing. Incidents across the East of England have fallen by almost a third following this approach.

This is positive news, but the CLA believes there have been significant challenges in other parts of the country and this is a crime that can move geographically, so we will be monitoring the situation closely following harvest this year.

The Government has pledged to crack down on hare coursing with the introduction of new legislation, following intense lobbying from a coalition of rural organisations, including the CLA.

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Rural police on patrol

The amendments give the police and the courts greater power to tackle offenders in the field, remove the tools of their trade and impose stiffer penalties at conviction.

The CLA believes it is important that all police officers and police call handlers understand the issues of wildlife crime so they can act appropriately when called for assistance. We would like to see wildlife crime training included as standard for all new recruits and the development of an ongoing programme of training for all call handlers.

Fly-tipping is another regular topic raised by our members. It is a blight on rural life, with many victims being repeatedly targeted, and left to deal with both the expense and waste. To best catch those perpetrating this crime, there either needs to be much closer working relationships between the local police forces, Environment Agency and local authorities, or a single body responsible for leading on this issue.

Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioners now have a fund that landowners can use to help cover the cost of fly-tipping. The CLA would like to see this introduced in all other counties in our region too.

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Rural crime panel discussion at the 2022 Royal Norfolk Show

The theft of metal, fuel, machinery and livestock blights the lives of farmers and rural businesses and the cost to the rural economy is significant. The countryside is a working environment as well as an area of great beauty, and these businesses face threats beyond theft, such as criminal damage and arson. We want to see police forces with a properly equipped and resourced dedicated rural crime team to tackle this constant threat within our rural communities.

During 2020 and 2021, many people reignited their love for the countryside. However, incidents of fire, criminal damage, wild camping, trespass, and negative interactions with livestock were common. With greater awareness and education through the Countryside Code, the CLA believes many of these incidents could be avoided. We have developed a free resource pack for schools and youth groups to help young people understand the importance of the Code, which you can download from the CLA website.

We engage regularly with the police forces across our region and we recognise the challenges they have. But events such as the Royal Norfolk Show and Suffolk Show are a good opportunity to highlight the concerns that farmers, land managers and rural business have, and remind the police of their duty to tackle criminal activity in the countryside.