RURAL THEFTS have significantly decreased in Scotland in the past three months, assisted by Covid-19 restrictions, an uptake in the use of trackers on plant and farm machinery and some timely apprehensions by Police.

The Police Scotland National Rural Crime Unit reported a 39% reduction in rural thefts this April, May and June, down from the same quarter last year. For the first quarter of 2020, there has been a 114% increase in the amount of farm and plant machinery recovered – with 130 vehicles worth more than £400,000 returned to owners.

Over the summer of 2019 there was a huge drive by the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime to go out and meet rural dwellers at agricultural shows and community events, with an aim to improve dialogue between the two and work more cooperatively towards tackling rural crime.

Constable Allan McKean from the National Rural Crime Unit told The SF that their actions had paid dividends, pointing out that the quantity and quality of reports they have been receiving from rural communities has helped them crack down on rural crime.

“Even before lockdown, rural crime on the whole has reduced quite considerably in the past year,” reported Constable McKean. “We believe our efforts to engage with rural communities and deliver preventative messages last year are paying off. People have been providing us with more and better information, be that sightings of suspicious vehicles or incidences of sheep worrying.

“More people are using our Rural Watch service to alert people within their communities to any criminal activity in their area, which has allowed us to target police presence in the right areas,” he explained, adding that as well as the NRCU, there have been multiple local 'partnership against rural crime' groups established, which has joined up thinking at both a national and local level.

“We have really benefited from a consistency of messaging from national to local to rural and we need to keep moving along the same line and get more people on-board," Constable McKean continued. “Last year we focused on encouraging people to buy tracking devices for their machinery and those messages really hit home, as we have been able to recover a lot more equipment with the help of trackers and return hundreds of thousands of pounds to the rural community."

In 2019, Police Scotland recovered tractors, quad bikes and other farm equipment valued at £893,000.

Although rural crime rates as a whole have dropped in recent months, lockdown brought a surge in fly tipping incidents: “Fly tipping exploded in the early stages of lockdown as some people’s attitude was that the council would pick it up, which of course wasn’t the case for a number of months,” he said.

“There were a lot of issues with grass cuttings with everyone spending more time in their gardens, but many didn’t think about the different chemicals they were putting on their plants before throwing it in to a field with livestock in it. Although this is a local authority issue, there has been a huge effort to share information between local partners such as NFU Scotland, NFU Mutual and Scottish Land and Estates which has allowed us to better keep on top of rural issues,” he concluded.