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With rural policing in crisis, is it right that so much budget is given to bogus bird of prey investigations?



Rural policing is in crisis, a report commissioned by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has shown.

 

Freedom of Information Act requests were submitted to 36 police forces in rural areas across the country, with 20 forces responding. The responses received reveal that five forces nationwide ­– Durham, Nottingham, West Yorkshire, Norfolk and Cleveland – have no dedicated rural crime team whatsoever. Eight forces have less than ten rural officers.

 

As well as a lack of officers, a lack of kit was reported. Cleveland, Derbyshire and Lancashire report no high-powered torches. South Yorkshire have just two high-power torches between 85 officers, and Gwent two.


Of the forces who responded, South Yorkshire has the largest number of rural officers at 92. However, this is a tiny percentage of their more than 3,000 officers, despite it being a predominantly rural county.


The budget each force received varies widely as well; Northamptonshire’s team receives no internal funding, Leicestershire’s rural crime team receives just £1,250, while Cambridgeshire has a budget of £961,830.

 

These findings show that the nation’s rural policing teams are in crisis: how can they be expected to police the countryside when the majority of forces have minimal staff and minimal budget?

While our sympathies of course lie with the officers whose time and resources are so stretched, the question has to be raised as to whether they are choosing to prioritise the correct investigations and allegations. Of course, this is subjective. But is it right that so much money and attention is given to investigating bird of prey investigations which have been instigated by anti-grouse shooting campaigners, when so many of the allegations turn out to be false?


This is by no means an attempt to play down the seriousness of raptor crime: we agree that a zero-tolerance attitude to raptor crime is the only way forward. However, when rural police services are so strapped financially, is investigating reports of raptor crime the best use of those thinly-spread resources? We suspect that if you asked the majority of those who live and/or work in the countryside, raptor crime would be long down the list of things they would like the local police forces to be addressing.

 

An investigation into rural crime by Dr Kate Tudor was published earlier this year, which looked at ‘Who victimises rural communities?’. Dr Tudor found that there has been a 29% rise in theft of agricultural machinery and vehicles; but that 28% of the victims of rural crime are not reporting their experiences to the police. Why? Rural residents feel that the police do not take rural crime seriously. Even more worryingly, a recent survey carried out by the Countryside Alliance showed that 97% of rural respondents felt that crime was a significant problem in their community – no wonder, when rural crime increased by 22% in the year to 2022.


One farmer told the BBC that he faced “constant warfare” against balaclava-clad thieves breaking into his farmyard, and against hare-poaching gangs. He has had to spend £10,000 on farm defences to keep his property secure, and says that gangs of thieves are targeting outbuildings of farms looking for tools and vehicles to steal.

 

Durham police, who have no rural crime team, told the BBC that “it instead relied on information supplied by locals” and that rural communities "are our eyes and ears”.

 

But when you depend on people on the ground to monitor crime and send in reports, it is no wonder that you end up with a skewed list of priorities. We have already established that the majority of people in rural areas don't bother reporting crime to the police as they don't believe anything will be done – leaving the door open for those who want to accuse people of raptor crime to do so, and for the police to devote time to it. 


Despite Hen Harriers now being at 200 year high, for example, we are still seeing disproportionate and heavy policing in every instance when one bird disappears, despite there being no evidence of foul play. 


You have to ask, are these the right priorities for rural policing teams which are already on their knees?

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