Published: 06:00, 05 August 2019
| Updated: 14:29, 05 August 2019
Kent is the worst hit by rural crime in the UK, a report by rural insurer National Farmers Union Mutual reveals.
Rural crime, which includes damage and theft of farming equipment and livestock, cost the county around £2,659,000 last year.
This is a 74.3% increase on 2017, compared to a 12% rise in the UK overall.
Farmers and landowners are becoming increasingly frightened as figures reveal rural crime is on the rise
Tractors, machinery and other farm vehicles are the most popular targets for theft in rural areas.
And just last month, a tractor was completely destroyed by fire in Sittingbourne.
NFU Mutual Kent agent, George Ashby said: "Fear of crime is changing life in the countryside.
"Farmers and landowners are getting more and more anxious, to the point of feeling isolated in their rural locations but also like they can't leave.
"From constant reports of thefts and suspicious vehicles to criminals regularly staking out farms, rural people feel under siege."
Kent Police has recovered 65 items of stolen plant and machinery with a combined value of over £370,000 since January.
And the Rural taskforce has recently been increased to 12 officers. The team deals with rural theft, poaching, fly-tipping and crimes against heritage buidlings.
Insp Dave Smith from the Rural Task Force said: "We take rural crime very seriously and our dedicated Rural Task Force focuses solely on tackling people who do these communities harm.
"We work closely with NFU, the Environment Agency and the RSPCA and organise a number of operations based on the seasonal pattern of offending.
"Kent is known as the Garden of England for its extensive rural areas and it is understandable it sees more reports of rural crime than other, less rural counties."
"Fear of crime is changing life in the countryside" - George Ashby, NFU Mutual
He said the reason Kent is targetted is the large amount of food and livestock we produce in the county, which requires lots of expensive kit.
Nick Robinson, senior officer at the Kent High Weald Partnership, had his Bedgebury Pinetum office broken into in December 2017.
The theives took four chainsaws, four drills and a truck.
He said: "We came in and found the lock had been broken, the truck was missing and the alarm was wrecked.
"It's difficult because we thought it was a quiet, safe place but actually, it isn't safe.
"We've had a couple more break-ins more recently as well - it feels like a bit of an epidemic."
Farmers are trying their best to keep one step ahead of thieves.
People are digging ditches and putting up earth banks to prevent criminals getting on to their land.
Electronic devices like infra-red beams which send alerts to mobile phones and geo-fencing, which triggers an alarm if tractors go beyond farm boundaries are also being used.
NFU advises people living and working in the countryside to remain vigilant, regularly evaluate security measures and report any suspicious activity to police.
The company has invested more than £1.5m in tackling rural crime as well as working alongside police, who are using NFU figures to help understand rural crime and plan responses.
Insp Smith added: "We use an intelligence-led approach to cutting crime and catching offenders.
"We do this by building trust and confidence in the local communities, using specialist technology and social media to maximise community intelligence and reduce crime."
More by this authorRebecca Tuffin
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