Rural crime: the current state of play

As the frequency and scale of all types of rural crime grow and become more sophisticated, the CLA’s rural crime team highlights the Association’s continued policy and lobbying work
police rural crime
In 2022/23 there were approximately three prosecutions for every 2,000 fly-tipping incidents

Rural crime of all types continues to adversely affect businesses and communities, with evidence suggesting that its frequency and scale are increasing and becoming more sophisticated. Industry reports indicate that the cost of rural crime across the UK rose to an estimated £49.5m in 2022. Cross-border crime, at county and national levels, is more prevalent than ever, with increasing links to national and international organised crime groups.

The formation of the National Rural Crime Unit (NRCU), led by Superintendent Andy Huddlestone, showed the government’s commitment to tackling rural crime and prioritising improved cross-force collaboration. It follows the success of the Welsh Wildlife and Rural Crime Coordinator role in 2021. Across England and Wales, there have been increasing numbers of joint operations delivering good levels of success: Operation Galileo (targeting hare coursing), Operation Hawkeye (targeting poaching and trespass), Operation Gallop (supporting the equine community) and Operation Crossbow (North Wales and Cheshire disrupting crime via main transport routes).


Fly-tipping continues to severely impact public and private landowners. Recent national statistics indicate that there were more than 1.08m reports of incidents to local authorities in 2022/2023. Unfortunately, prosecutions, a key deterrent, have declined, with only 1,665 prosecutions recorded - 0.15% of the total. This equates to around three prosecutions for every 2,000 fly-tipping incidents, which are alluring odds for criminals.

The report also estimates that just a quarter of all waste crimes are reported, and, as such, the true scale of the problem is unknown. Although there is a lack of government support for waste fly-tipped on private land at present, it remains important for all incidents to be reported to build a clear picture of the scale of the issue.

If you discover a fly-tipping incident, it can be reported through your local authority website, or you can report it on the go through smartphone applications such as ClearWaste or websites like FixMyStreet and Crimestoppers. If you witness a live incident, please report it to the police.

However, progress is being made. In April 2023, funding was allocated to a fly-tipping lead within the NRCU; in July 2023, there was an increase in fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for fly-tipping from £400 to £1,000 (the number of issued in 2021/22 increased by 58%); and in January 2024, DIY waste disposal charges from local authorities were abolished, removing one of the key barriers to responsible waste disposal.

Unauthorised encampments

Unauthorised encampments continue to impact landowners, particularly in Wales. Landowners are often expected to either instruct bailiffs or follow civil processes and issue eviction notices while carrying all associated costs during and after the incident. This is despite new powers in 2022 making such encampments an offence in certain circumstances. Prevention is key. Keep up-to-date plans, title deeds and tenancy documentation for all of your land to immediately prove ownership. Secure land using ditches, boulders, fences and gates. Check that your insurance cover includes legal costs, and know how to contact your solicitor outside normal hours in case an incident occurs.


Theft remains a significant issue. It is not just agricultural machinery and equipment theft that are increasing, but also fuel, livestock and equine-related theft, including tack and associated equipment.

Figures provided by CLA Insurance over the last 12 months indicate that machinery and tool theft has increased by more than 25%, while theft of GPS equipment has risen by more than 10%

The CLA continues its work as part of the National Rural Crime Network alongside other rural partners to influence the details proposed in the secondary legislation for the Machinery Theft (Prevention) Act 2023.

Operation Walrus is a national police crackdown focusing on GPS equipment theft, aiming to share crime prevention advice and assist in the return of any recovered equipment. Members are advised to:

  • Remove GPS systems, screens and other valuables when leaving vehicles.
  • Park tractors and other agricultural vehicles in secure, alarmed buildings in well-lit areas covered by CCTV.
  • Activate PIN security on GPS systems. If your system is not PIN-enabled, mark your postcode to deter thieves and trace your property back to you.
  • Keep tractors and combines with GPS stored out of sight.
  • Record serial numbers and photograph your systems.

Hare coursing

The hare coursing season is in full swing, with perpetrators regularly spotted and apprehended. Unfortunately, prolonged wet weather during the winter months led to heightened levels of damage occurring where vehicles accessed land to commit offences.


The CLA sits on the National Poaching Priority Delivery group, which recently identified an increasing trend in poaching incidents being committed by people on foot. It is believed this is undertaken by younger people who cannot drive or access a motor vehicle.

Deer-related poaching offences are also increasing nationally, with reports of more than 50,000 deer killed annually. In some cases, they have been deliberately driven at and run over. Police forces in the South East have reported that a burgeoning wild deer population is rapidly outstripping available food, resulting in some animals being in very poor condition.

Livestock worrying

Police reports indicate that livestock worrying offences are on the rise, with recent incidents reported in Denbighshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Cheshire. The assumption is that offences only involve sheep, but the Equine Priority Delivery Group has warned that there have also been incidents of horses being worried by out-of-control dogs. Following successful CLA lobbying, new measures were announced in February to reduce dog attacks and provide greater police powers through government support of the private members bill Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill 2023-24.


Technology continues to evolve quickly, and the use of drones to combat crime during the day and their thermal imaging abilities at night make them a powerful police tool. However, drones and their increasing recreational and commercial use can trigger privacy concerns for landowners, and the CLA keeps a close eye on any changes to regulations.

In December 2023, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced the Digitising Specific Category Operations (DiSCO) project, which aims to simplify the categorisation of drone flights. It proposes new standards of pilot competence, standardised methods of risk assessment, recognised third parties to be able to assess drone flightworthiness, and a simpler process to apply for a given flight.

The CAA also recently closed a consultation on the ‘open’ category (relatively low-risk flights that don’t need individual permission). Consultation proposals included simplifying this category, remote identification of drones flying in the category, and a requirement for all pilots within the category to pass a ‘flyer ID’ theory test. The CAA consultation response is yet to be published.

The rules around drones are currently complex, difficult to administer and complicated to follow. That means members who use drones, whether for measurement, photography or leisure, may find it difficult to meet the rules. The aim of these proposals is to remove this complexity without reducing public safety.

Crime reporting

There is a need to improve the accuracy of reporting for all rural crime categories. This would enable identification of crime hotspots and facilitate targeted operations but also, importantly, highlight the extent of all rural crime types, supporting the ongoing campaign for appropriate resourcing levels.

The CLA is calling for increased funding to provide specific rural crime training for all 999 and 101 call handlers and a national resource library to be made available with specific training on how to categorise and log information relating to rural crimes. This would improve handlers’ knowledge and understanding and, ultimately, the accuracy and response time experienced by CLA members, which has sometimes been inadequate.

Read our guidance for the next government on everything relating to rural crime here.

Rural Crime

Visit the CLA’s hub for more information on our work on rural crime

Key contact:

Lucy Charman Rural Adviser, CLA South East