Tim Woodward, CLA East Regional Surveyor
The CLA is set for a big year in the fight against criminals whose actions are blighting the countryside.
Rural crime is an issue that we unfortunately hear about frequently from members. It is an area that we will be lobbying hard on over the next year, making sure it isn’t eclipsed by the government’s focus on Brexit.
Rural crime comes in many different forms from fly-tipping to sheep worrying, but one thing that remains constant is how it affects businesses and people across the countryside.
In the last year, we have run campaigns on both fly-tipping and hare coursing, educating politicians and officials about the menace that these crimes pose to landowners and the environment.
Nearly a million incidents of fly-tipping took place in the last 12 months across the UK, but the CLA believes that the true figure is actually much higher due to reports of incidents on private land not being included. Landowners are often left to pick up the cost of being a victim of this crime, with the average incident costing over £800 to clean up.
The CLA is attempting tackle unfairness at the core of this crime: that although landowners are the victims, they then have to meet the cost of removing the waste. We will be pushing for the principle that if you are a victim of fly-tipping then you should be able to dispose of the waste at a local authority site at no cost to yourself.
Hare coursers are taking advantage of winter frosts and empty fields, causing damage to land and property, and intimidating those who challenge them. Hare coursing is where dogs are used to chase, catch and kill hares with betting on the outcome, while causing significant damage to fields and crops.
The CLA held a hare coursing awareness day in Parliament last October, where more than 25 MPs came to hear directly from CLA members and local police teams about the difficulties created by coursing. One member told Victoria Atkins, the Home Office minister responsible for wildlife crime, his story about being violently attacked after confronting coursers who were trespassing on his family farm.
CLA President Tim Breitmeyer, who farms in Cambridgeshire and who has had problems with illegal hare coursers himself, will meet with the minister this month, to push for harsher penalties for those caught coursing and more resources for the rural police teams to be able to catch those responsible.
This year we are looking to expand our campaigning work to encompass more rural crimes that cause difficulties to both businesses and people across the countryside.
One of the most important things that victims of crime can do is report the crime to the police and in the instance of fly-tipping, to the local authority. Even if it is felt that this provides little remedy, it helps to record the number of incidents taking place, and enables the authorities to build a clearer picture of where rural crimes are happening. Organisations like the CLA can then take these statistics to government and give an accurate picture of the scale of the problem.
All too often the assumption is that those in rural areas will just get it on with it and not complain, but we believe this year is a good time to start really speaking up and help reduce the burden caused by rural crime.