AS lockdown restrictions ease across Scotland, independent charity Crimestoppers in partnership with Network Rail is launching a campaign encouraging the public to speak up about people responsible for harming Scotland’s countryside.

With many people planning trips to the countryside, the anticipated impact of large visitor numbers and effects of rural crime could be devastating to the environment.

Over 95% of Scotland is classed as rural and NFU Mutual estimate that rural crime costs Scotland around £1.8 million annually, with levels reportedly increasing.

Crimestoppers together with Police Scotland and wider rural and environmental organisations are asking the public to spot the signs of rural crime and give information 100% anonymously.

National manager for Crimestoppers Scotland, Angela Parker, said: "Many of us will be impatient to get back to nature and enjoy the stunning scenery Scotland has to offer. Our campaign is encouraging the public to be aware of the harm rural crime and anti-social behaviour can inflict on the environment and the economy, from heritage crime, to wilful fire-raising and theft, these crimes often go unreported and can ruin lives, livelihoods and the rural environment."

The key crimes that Scotland’s rural areas experience are:

• House-breaking

• Theft of farm equipment, vehicles and machinery

• Livestock-related crimes: theft and dog attacks

• Fly-tipping and industrial waste dumping

• Hare coursing and badger baiting

• Fuel theft – domestic and commercial

• Heritage and cultural property crime including illegal metal detecting

• Wildlife crime

• Wilful fire-raising

Rural and acquisitive crime coordinator for Police Scotland, Inspector Alan Dron, added: "The majority of individuals wanting to experience Scotland’s stunning cultural, historic and natural environments have a desire to do so responsibly and in accordance with the law. Unfortunately the consequences of a rural incident or crime often has a deeper and far reaching impact plus access rights are not an excuse for anti-social or illegal behaviour. Please respect our rural communities and countryside, leave no trace of your visit and don’t let any individuals spoil your experience."

Senior community engagement manager at Network Rail, Mark Henderson, said: "Network Rail is delighted to be supporting Crimestoppers’ Rural Crime campaign. Our Company plays a vital role in connecting people across Scotland, so it’s hugely important to us to help our partners protect rural communities from crime. Our partners at BTP and staff across the organisation have been equipped with information on what to look out for and we will be sharing the campaign at stations and with passengers."

Postcards and posters will be shared across Scotland, coupled with a social media campaign highlighting the key crimes affecting rural areas.