Rural crime rates have fallen dramatically in Northern Ireland over the past decade according to latest figures from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) .

The number of burglary, robbery and theft offences relating to agricultural-based activity has fallen sharply from 937 offences recorded in 2010/11 to 196 recorded in 2021/22, the PSNI has indicated.

Additional figures for 2021/22 also show a decrease of 95 rural crime incidents when compared with 2020/21 and are just over one-fifth of the level recorded in 2010/11.

In general the PSNI has highlighted that agricultural crime typically represents less than 1% of all burglary, robbery and theft offences recorded in Northern Ireland.

According to latest statistics nine out of eleven policing districts have experienced a fall in overall levels of agriculture crime.

PSNI superintendent Johnston McDowell believes the fall in rural crime rates is down to a “commitment” undertaken by the police to tackle rural crime over the last decade.

McDowell is the PSNI’s district commander for Ards and North Down and rural crime lead.

He said the police force works closely with organisations such as the Ulster Farmers’ Union and rural communities as a whole.

McDowell believes the commitment of the PSNI to ongoing officer training, particularly in relation to agricultural crime issues, has been central to the success of the force in bringing down rural crime levels.

“Officers have the power, for example, to stop a cattle lorry on the road if they think something untoward is happening.

“As part of their training they will be fully aware of the permits and paperwork that must accompany animals during transit. If they find that all is not in order, an official investigation will follow,” he added.

According to the PSNI quads and other items of farm machinery continue to be prime targets for thieves in rural areas.

One other item which is increasingly being targeted by thieves, according to the PSNI, is old Landrover Defenders – even those that are no longer road worthy.

McDowell said:

“Landrover stopped making the Defender model a couple of years ago. As a consequence, genuine parts are in very strong demand.

“So much so that any old models identified within a farm yard setting is now a key target for thieves with an ability to cut them up.”

Meanwhile the PSNI is also supporting members of the rural community in Northern Ireland who have have experienced a significant increase in the number of mature tress impacted by Ash Dieback disease.

As a result of this some farmers and landowners want to cut trees down before they fall onto a road or public space.

McDowell has confirmed that the PSNI will close roads to facilitate tree felling operations but he has warned that there is a process that must be followed to facilitate this.

“Land owners must initially contact the Department for Infrastructure and register their request.”

He said this can be done through the department’s website and the PSNI will then be notified.

“Officers will, subsequently, contact the landowner to agree a time at which a road can be officially blocked-off and for how long,” McDowell said.