Rural idyll blighted

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Easygoing Emmerdale or Heartbeat country it isn’t. No pub or passers-by within sight. A few nearby properties are on the main road. The air is filled with the plaintive sound of lambs bleating. It isn’t hard to get off the beaten track in Over Wyre.

Just ask those who specialise in nicking livestock, agricultural machinery, farm vehicles, fuel, or metal. Or set dogs illegally upon some hapless hare for a “sport” banned by the Hunting Act seven years ago in all but Northern Ireland.

Outside one farm, the new spiked high metal fence is a sign of the times. Along with security sensors, trip wiring and CCTV.

The Over Wyre farm once had an open house policy which goes with the turf when you welcome visitors to shop front of house.

Not any more. The rural idyll across Lancashire, one of the greenest counties, has been blighted by crime – particularly vehicle crime. It is now, says the farmer’s wife, who prefers not to be identified, like “living in Fort Knox.”

The heavy duty security measures which have cost a small fortune are also necessary.

Two 4x4s have been stolen, in almost as many years, and a tractor too. One was tracked heading down the motorway.

“God knows where it is now. We had to invest in better security or the new 4x4 would have gone too.”

They are also worried about the rise in insurance premiums.

Farmers are not famed for their sunny economic outlook but there is no denying they have had it hard in recent years.

“We look out for each other but most live in fairly remote areas. It simply isn’t possible to be on guard 24 hours a day and look out at every car going past or parked up.”

Farm Watch is particularly well supported in this area and across rural south Fylde – the crucial cornerstones of the Fylde coast’s farming communities.

But police are now encouraging farmers to go one step further to beat the blight on peace of mind and profits.

A special conference aimed at reducing rural vehicle crime is being held at Lancashire Police’s Hutton headquarters later this month, on March 22.

The aim is give farmers, agricultural workers, horse riders, rural traders and residents the advice and expertise needed to protect themselves and their properties and livestock.

As well as 4x4s, tractors, horse boxes and the like going missing, machinery has been targeted and, across Lancashire, rustling of cattle and sheep is also rising, along with attacks on birds of prey, poaching and, in recent years, badger baiting.

In rural Fylde there are problems with hare coursing, a blood sport illegal in mainland Britain. Lead theft is a huge problem across the county and country.

Kirkham-based PC Dawn Conolly-Perch, community beat manager for Staining, Singleton and rural Fylde, admits: “Things aren’t too bad here, we have a lot of things in place, and set up the Farm Watch scheme a few years ago.

“Anyone who has a computer tends to come in on the scheme although a few still don’t. We ping out an alert which they all distribute. One of the main things we get is hare coursing, which will rear its head again this month.

“It is seen as a tradition, but is an offence, and we issue warnings as a preventative measure and will prosecute, although it’s a hard offence to prove. If nothing else, we can disrupt the offence.

“We also have a Horse Watch scheme. One volunteer saddle codes, putting postcode chips in, and one lady says her saddle was worth £4,000 so it’s a small price to pay.

“People must be more watchful, as rural crime is often quite brazen. Singleton Church, down a secluded lane, has just lost the lead from the roof.

“I’d urge locals with any concerns to ring the new report line 101 if they see anything. Or 999 for an emergency. We cover quite a sprawl, crime tends to be more random here.”

Det Sgt Simon Ingham, who hosts the conference, sponsored by Tracker Network UK, Data Tag, and NFU Mutual, says countryside crime is comparatively low.

He said: “We want to keep it that way. We want residents and workers to report anything remotely suspicious to us – whether it’s a vehicle out of place, a car or van on what might be a recce, or strangers on land.

“Farmers often share equipment so don’t always notice if it goes missing, and assume someone else has borrowed it.

“Due to remote locations of many rural properties, residents and workers can often be complacent and develop a false sense of security – crime prevention is not always their top focus.

“Thieves know this, that there is less chance they will be seen.

“Subsequent crimes can be very costly for the victims, affecting them not just personally but also having financial implications that can affect their livelihood.”

jacqui.morley@ blackpoolgazette.co.uk