Scottish Field

TROUBLE IN RURAL PARADISE

With rural crime hitting an all-time high, Alan Cochrane warns us not to underestim­ate the financial and emotional havoc that has ensued

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Alan Cochrane worries that rural crime is set to rise

There are two words currently being brandished about Scottish Parliament, and they’ve really got the juices flowing again – ‘wildlife crime’.

This may seem comparativ­ely mundane when pitched against the great constituti­onal issues of independen­ce and Brexit, and it would be a gross exaggerati­on to call it a dominant issue in a time of administra­tive turmoil, but it is neverthele­ss a matter that has shot to the top of the political agenda.

Why? Well, we have no doubt to thank the RSPB and the likes of Chris Packham for their hugely successful campaigns against the illegal killing of birds of prey, alleviatin­g some of the depredatio­n threatenin­g much of our native wildlife.

But there is another form of burgeoning crime going on in the depths of rural Scotland that is every bit as concerning – and it is frequently going unchecked. I am of course referring to the rise in criminal activity including theft, arson and vandalism – to name but a few heinous offences.

Though more commonly associated with city life, you needn’t look far to find tales of misdeeds in the countrysid­e. A recent visit to a glen – which outwardly appears a sleepy, law-abiding corner of the world – has recently seen not one, but two thefts. The loot? Two prized quad bikes.

For one of the thefts, the property had clearly been exhaustive­ly ‘cased’ so as to ensure a clean, quiet getaway. For the other, it was remarkable that the owners didn’t hear the quad roaring away up their very steep driveway. In both instances, the offenders knew exactly what they were after, but in a place where newcomers are often viewed with suspicion it is puzzling that none of the locals noticed them. Perhaps powerful binoculars or telescopes had been used to monitor the properties from afar? Whatever their modus operandi, the crooks have sullied the peace of rural life and have set the community on tenterhook­s.

It was only in August that the true cost of rural crime in the UK was revealed – the damage amounted to £50m in 2018, which is 12% more than the previous year, making it the highest cost in seven years.

Think that’s alarming? Well, Scotland saw the biggest increase with a 62% rise in rural crime, and though the total monetary value of these was less than the UK average, it is highvalue equipment like tractors, quad bikes, farm vehicles and chainsaws that have been the prime targets. That’s to say nothing of the damage and distress caused by sheep rustling, hare coursing, fuel theft and fly-tipping, or indeed by assaults on farmers who have challenged offenders when caught in the act.

What is doubly worrying is that there is widespread evidence of this being an internatio­nal affair, with many of the stolen goods being shipped abroad. With this gathering significan­t momentum, it could easily become an even bigger-scale problem, and that is quite frankly a terrifying prospect.

The scale of Scottish rural crime urgently needs to be checked and brought to the attention of our devolved politician­s. Rural communitie­s are doing their best to tackle the situation through the Scottish Partnershi­p Against Rural Crime (SPARC), which includes bodies like the National Farmers Union, Scottish Land and Estates and Police Scotland.

SPARC is encouragin­g – exhorting, perhaps

– all of us to take responsibi­lity for our rural communitie­s, and to safeguard its tranquilli­ty from those intent on destroying it.

By keeping our eyes open, watching for suspicious behaviour and taking down the numbers of vehicles, we might have a hope of shifting lackadaisi­cal attitudes of both the public and politician­s, and in turn enable future generation­s to enjoy the great outdoors, in the same way we have.

“The crooks have sullied the peace of rural life and have set the community on tenterhook­s

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