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Rural crime crisis needs rapid action

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THE NATIONAL Rural Crime Network (NRCN) has welcomed a report released last Saturday (27 April) by the House of Lords Rural Economy Committee.

Julia Mulligan, Chair of the Network, gave oral evidence to the Committee at Westminster in November on rural crime and its impact.

She spoke about the National Rural Crime Survey’s results and the need for action to be taken to ensure the challenges it showed are addressed by the police, government and other organisations to keep rural communities safe and feeling safe.

The report outlines in stark terms the discrepancy in funding between urban and rural areas. It also calls for a comprehensive rural strategy, more measures to tackle rural criminality and the importance of ensuring a rural voice in Government.

The reported noted that, as in urban areas, crime can have a significant impact on rural businesses, economies and communities. However, the impact in rural areas can be greater, not least because of the isolation of some business properties (including farms), the larger areas and distances for police to cover and a lower police funding per head of population in rural areas than urban areas.

The Rural Crime Network Survey for 2018, which was commissioned by the National Rural Crime Network, a body made up of 30 Police and Crime Commissioners, found a poor perception of policing in rural communities. The survey found that only 27 per cent of 20,000 respondents believed their local police were doing a good job. 69 per cent of farmers and rural-specific business owners have been a victim of crime over the past 12 months and 60 per cent said they were fairly or very worried about being a victim of crime in future.

The monetary impact of rural crime has worsened in recent years, with the Rural Crime Network survey finding that the average cost of a crime to the victim had increased from £4,000 to £4,800 between 2015 and 2018.

Sarah Lee of the Countryside Alliance, who also sits on the board of the National Rural Crime Network, told the Committee that the financial impact of crime on rural businesses averages about £5,000, a potentially significant amount for a small rural business, and an increase of 13 per cent since 2015

Graham Biggs of the Rural Services Network told the Committee the main economic impact from rural crimes comes from the theft of agricultural implements and machinery.

The full cost of rural crimes is being underestimated. By way of example, Deputy Chief Constable Craig Naylor, the lead for rural crime for the National Police Chiefs’ Council explained that if a harvester is stolen, the cost of the stolen harvester will be recognised through the insurance claim while the cost of a crop not being harvested goes unreported.

Graham Biggs also told us that rural police forces are underfunded and receive less per person funding than urban counterparts.

According to the National Police Chiefs’ Council, on average, the 12 most rural police forces receive £100 per head of population compared to £158 for the 12 least rural forces, representing a difference of £58 (37 per cent) less funding for most rural police forces.

Concerns were also expressed over the closure of rural police stations and of some magistrates’ courts that serviced rural areas. Julia Mulligan said “The force I operate in has 11,000 police officers, which is down in the last five years from over 13,000. We are in a position where, with the current budget situation, we will have to cut again next year. We will be a good percentage point down from what our operating model was less than five years ago. Our demand has gone up”

As with other rural services, rural policing faces challenges of distances and sparsity. The Lord Bishop of St Albans commented on the absence of police in rural areas, noting that “if you call the police in a remote rural area there is probably no policeman for 20 or 40 miles”

Among the recommendations in the report:
• ‘The impact of rural crime on rural economies is a significant concern. More needs to be done by Government to better understand, track and respond to rural criminality.’ (recommendation 117)
• ‘We would also like to see new measures introduced [on fly-tipping] to ensure that farmers and land-owners do not have to pay for the cost of clean-up of rubbish that is dumped on their land.’ (recommendation 118)
• ‘Magistrates, Courts and the Crown Prosecution Service should be trained to better understand the scale and impact of rural crime. Reforms to sentencing guidelines should be considered, where appropriate, to widen the range of possible sentences to better reflect the seriousness of some crimes.’ (recommendation 119)

Julia Mulligan, Chair of the National Rural Crime Network and North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, said: “This is a welcome and comprehensive report on all aspects of the rural economy and its impact on those who live and work in the countryside.

“The House of Lords Committee is correct that we need to do more to tackle crime and the fear of crime in rural areas – and ensure the police and other organisations have the resources to do that.

“It reinforces the findings of our National Rural Crime Survey which found the impact of crime – from anti-social behaviour to fly-tipping and speeding – is significant and that action needs to be taken. It is vital the government listens.

“We will continue to fight for rural communities, who should not have to put up with sub-standard services just because of where they live. I hope this report makes a difference because things need to change, and fast.”

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Farming

Alpaca settle in on Welsh hills

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A HERD of alpaca at Aberystwyth University’s upland research centre welcomed two new arrivals during the Covid-19 lockdown.
One male and one female baby alpaca, known as cria, were born at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Platform and are settling down to life in the Cambrian Mountains.
They are the first cria to be born on the University’s land and to be registered under the centre’s new stud prefix ‘Peiran’.
Peiran Champagne and Peiran Cosmopolitan join a small herd of alpacas who arrived at Pwllpeiran in October 2019 as part of a new research project.
Scientists want to see whether the South American alpaca is suited to life in the Welsh hills and could provide new opportunities for uplands farming.
These long-necked animals, similar to the llama, are renowned for the quality of their fibre (wool) and are happy to feed on low quality grasses which are often snubbed by sheep.
The research project is being led by Dr Mariecia Fraser at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Centre, which is part of the University’s Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).
“These are changing times for Welsh upland farming, with the next round of support payments expected to push for a shift away from primary agricultural production towards nature conservation and carbon reduction. In setting up a research herd of alpacas at Pwllpeiran, we want to test whether the alpaca could offer hill farmers a viable alternative to sheep.
“As well as producing high quality fibre, camelids like alpacas have evolved adaptations to enable them to live off poor quality tussock grasses in the Andes, and are happy to tuck into invasive grasses such as Molinia. These forages grow in abundance on the Welsh uplands but tend to be shunned by native sheep. We’ll be looking at the impact of their grazing and how well they could fit in to traditional patterns of farming here,” said Dr Fraser.
The establishment of the initial research herd is being funded by the Joy Welch Educational Charitable Trust, which was set up by the Aberystwyth alumna in 1988.

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Farming

Beef calf registrations increase

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NEW figures released by the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) suggests that the number of beef calves registered in Wales in the first five months of 2020 is the highest it’s been for several years.
Across Britain there has been an overall rise of 1.2% in calves – both dairy and beef – registered between January and May 2020, compared to the same period last year. In Wales the figure is higher, with an increase of 3.1%.
According to analysis by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) the statistics reflect a range of factors, including a trend of producing more cross-bred calves from the dairy herd.
Some of the beef breeds and cross breeds showing the biggest increases in terms of calf registrations in Wales include the Aberdeen Angus (up 11.7%) and Hereford (up 4.8%), whilst both Charolais and British Blue registrations are up just over 4%.
The 2020 figures are a contrast to the last five years, where BCMS calf registration data has indicated a flat picture in the Welsh beef registrations.
HCC market analyst Glesni Phillips said, “These figures could show a positive sign for the future of the beef industry in Wales, and reflect broader trends in both the beef and dairy sectors.
“This comes despite the beef sector being hit by uncertainty in recent times. A combination of market conditions led to low farm-gate prices last year, and demand fluctuated widely in the early stages of the Coronavirus lockdown as pubs and restaurants closed their doors.
“However, we’ve seen encouraging consumption figures throughout Britain in the second half of the spring, with great support from consumers for home-produced beef, with its high standards of welfare and environmental sustainability.”
One high-profile new entrant into the beef sector is international rugby referee Nigel Owens MBE, who has recently started his own ‘Mairwen’ herd of Hereford cattle in Carmarthenshire.
“Having worked at Wern Farm Drefach when I was younger it had always been a dream of mine to keep my own herd,” said Nigel, who has built up to around 30 cattle so far on a 116-acre holding, “and if anything the lockdown has given the chance to get things up and running more quickly, as we’ve been able to get on with fencing, hedge-laying and developing our soil and pasture.”
Nigel added, “Each breed has its supporters, but from an early age I recall visiting my uncle and aunt’s farm, Pentwyn in Llannon, who had a Hereford bull running with the dairy herd. My cousin Helen and Gwyndaf near Aberaeron who run the Creuddyn Hereford herd have also been a valuable source of advice. For me, the cattle have a calm nature and calve easily. They’ll also produce good-quality meat which is important as we develop the business in future.”

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Farming

New edition of Welsh meat ‘Bible’ launched

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HYBU Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has launched the latest edition of its ‘Little Book of Meat Facts’, the annual digest of facts, figures and trends for the nation’s lamb, beef and pork industries.
Among the key figures in this year’s edition were that Welsh red meat production was worth an estimated £690 million in 2018, compared with £677 million the previous year.
In 2019, total throughput of cattle and calves in Welsh abattoirs stood at 147,600 head, with total beef production totalling 42,900 tonnes (up from 40,000 tonnes the previous year). Throughput of sheep and lambs stood at 3.3 million head, with total sheep meat production totalling 63,400 tonnes, compared with 60,800 in 2018.
France remained the largest destination for lamb exports, but with important growth in trade with Germany which is now in a clear second place. Beef and lamb exports were mostly to Europe, although with significant trade to other markets in the Middle East, East Asia and Canada.
The Little Book also contains information on what kinds of meat British consumers are buying and from which retailers, as well as data on key industry measures such as carcase classification.
HCC Data Analyst Glesni Phillips said; “We usually launch the Little Book of Meat Facts at the Royal Welsh Show, so that farmers and other stakeholders can browse the latest statistics.
“Of course, this year that’s not possible, so we’re launching it virtually and making it available on our website.
“What all the statistics show is that, despite uncertainty surrounding Brexit and now of course the disruption of COVID-19, the red meat sector is hugely important to the Welsh economy. It’s the backbone of rural communities, and also employs large numbers in auction markets, processing and the supply chain, as well as supporting brands which are symbols of our nation’s high-quality food across the world.”

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