The Westminster spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Carla Lockhart MP has raised her concerns at the rising incidence of crime in rural communities.

She raised concerns after figures released last year by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) showed that rural crime in Northern Ireland increased by 51%, and it equated to more than £2.5 million.

She stated that criminals are “very active” in the countryside and that farmers should always remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity.

“Crime is almost a daily occurrence for farms and rural businesses throughout the province. Thefts of quad bikes, ATVs, trailers, tractors, livestock and fuel remain high,” Lockhart said.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politician stated that dog attacks, fly-tipping and illegal dumping are also a “blight” in the countryside.

Lockhart added:

“Rural crime rates are escalating because organised criminal gangs are ‘stealing to order’ to supply illicit global markets for machinery and technology.

“Last year saw an increased number of sophisticated GPS systems stolen. These items are reported to cost around £10,000 each.”

According to Lockhart, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and local authorities should adopt a “coordinated approach” to reduce crime.

The MP insisted that many farmers feel “vulnerable and are reluctant” to report rural crimes and that farmers and their families should not be living in fear.

Lockhart said that the PSNI must do more to strengthen its response to crime in rural communities as a “majority of farmers feel” that rural crime “falls down” the PSNI’s list of priorities.

She added that she understands that police resources are stretched, but there needs to be “regular and visible police presence” in rural communities.

The MP has encouraged farmers to safeguard their property by completing the following:

  • Install CCTV;
  • Install tracker systems;
  • Mark all machinery/trailers so they can be easily identified;
  • Freeze brand animals.

The farming and rural community is already “facing a number of challenges” and the rise in rural crime adds to their financial and emotional stress, Lockhart stated.

The MP has encouraged people from rural communities to participate in the Farm Watch scheme, and to report any suspicious activity to Crimestoppers or the PSNI.