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Farming

Rural crime crisis needs rapid action

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THE NATIONAL Rural Crime Network (NRCN) has welcomed a report released last Saturday (27 April) by the House of Lords Rural Economy Committee.

Julia Mulligan, Chair of the Network, gave oral evidence to the Committee at Westminster in November on rural crime and its impact.

She spoke about the National Rural Crime Survey’s results and the need for action to be taken to ensure the challenges it showed are addressed by the police, government and other organisations to keep rural communities safe and feeling safe.

The report outlines in stark terms the discrepancy in funding between urban and rural areas. It also calls for a comprehensive rural strategy, more measures to tackle rural criminality and the importance of ensuring a rural voice in Government.

The reported noted that, as in urban areas, crime can have a significant impact on rural businesses, economies and communities. However, the impact in rural areas can be greater, not least because of the isolation of some business properties (including farms), the larger areas and distances for police to cover and a lower police funding per head of population in rural areas than urban areas.

The Rural Crime Network Survey for 2018, which was commissioned by the National Rural Crime Network, a body made up of 30 Police and Crime Commissioners, found a poor perception of policing in rural communities. The survey found that only 27 per cent of 20,000 respondents believed their local police were doing a good job. 69 per cent of farmers and rural-specific business owners have been a victim of crime over the past 12 months and 60 per cent said they were fairly or very worried about being a victim of crime in future.

The monetary impact of rural crime has worsened in recent years, with the Rural Crime Network survey finding that the average cost of a crime to the victim had increased from £4,000 to £4,800 between 2015 and 2018.

Sarah Lee of the Countryside Alliance, who also sits on the board of the National Rural Crime Network, told the Committee that the financial impact of crime on rural businesses averages about £5,000, a potentially significant amount for a small rural business, and an increase of 13 per cent since 2015

Graham Biggs of the Rural Services Network told the Committee the main economic impact from rural crimes comes from the theft of agricultural implements and machinery.

The full cost of rural crimes is being underestimated. By way of example, Deputy Chief Constable Craig Naylor, the lead for rural crime for the National Police Chiefs’ Council explained that if a harvester is stolen, the cost of the stolen harvester will be recognised through the insurance claim while the cost of a crop not being harvested goes unreported.

Graham Biggs also told us that rural police forces are underfunded and receive less per person funding than urban counterparts.

According to the National Police Chiefs’ Council, on average, the 12 most rural police forces receive £100 per head of population compared to £158 for the 12 least rural forces, representing a difference of £58 (37 per cent) less funding for most rural police forces.

Concerns were also expressed over the closure of rural police stations and of some magistrates’ courts that serviced rural areas. Julia Mulligan said “The force I operate in has 11,000 police officers, which is down in the last five years from over 13,000. We are in a position where, with the current budget situation, we will have to cut again next year. We will be a good percentage point down from what our operating model was less than five years ago. Our demand has gone up”

As with other rural services, rural policing faces challenges of distances and sparsity. The Lord Bishop of St Albans commented on the absence of police in rural areas, noting that “if you call the police in a remote rural area there is probably no policeman for 20 or 40 miles”

Among the recommendations in the report:
• ‘The impact of rural crime on rural economies is a significant concern. More needs to be done by Government to better understand, track and respond to rural criminality.’ (recommendation 117)
• ‘We would also like to see new measures introduced [on fly-tipping] to ensure that farmers and land-owners do not have to pay for the cost of clean-up of rubbish that is dumped on their land.’ (recommendation 118)
• ‘Magistrates, Courts and the Crown Prosecution Service should be trained to better understand the scale and impact of rural crime. Reforms to sentencing guidelines should be considered, where appropriate, to widen the range of possible sentences to better reflect the seriousness of some crimes.’ (recommendation 119)

Julia Mulligan, Chair of the National Rural Crime Network and North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, said: “This is a welcome and comprehensive report on all aspects of the rural economy and its impact on those who live and work in the countryside.

“The House of Lords Committee is correct that we need to do more to tackle crime and the fear of crime in rural areas – and ensure the police and other organisations have the resources to do that.

“It reinforces the findings of our National Rural Crime Survey which found the impact of crime – from anti-social behaviour to fly-tipping and speeding – is significant and that action needs to be taken. It is vital the government listens.

“We will continue to fight for rural communities, who should not have to put up with sub-standard services just because of where they live. I hope this report makes a difference because things need to change, and fast.”

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Farming

Staycation boom offers farms new revenue stream

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THE NUMBER of working farms looking to cash in on the boom in staycations has sky-rocketed, according to figures from Pitchup.com.

Of the 2,000 campsites listed on Pitchup.com – Europe’s largest outdoor accommodation provider – more than 700 are working farms and 300 of those operate temporary sites, set up to take advantage of the peak holiday season.
Many such sites have joined the business in the first quarter of 2021, eager to secure a post-COVID financial recovery.

The hike comes after a change in planning policy increased the length of time farms and other land-based businesses can legally operate a campsite without planning permission from 28 days to 56 days.

Other factors, Pitchup.com discovered, include concerns over falling support payments and Government plans to curtail farming through environmental policies which will disadvantage active farmers.

Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com, said farmers were turning to temporary campsites in droves because they are the quickest and easiest form of diversification to get off the ground.

He said: “Establishing a campsite is very easy. At their most basic, all you need is a patch of land and running water, which most farms have already, and some toilets, which are easy to hire. Crucially, you don’t need planning permission to operate one for up to 56 days per year.

“With staycations booming and that trend set to stay, people are crying out for beautiful areas of the countryside where they can enjoy a relaxing break away from the pressures of work and lockdown.

“Farmers are perfectly placed to provide that. The farm-based campsites we work with can decide how many guests they want to host and with demand as it is, we are extremely confident we can fill those pitches.”

Mr Yates added that as well as being quick, convenient, and unobtrusive on day-to-day farming operations, pop-up and permanent campsites can be very lucrative.

“Although most campsites don’t generate quite this level of income, even small pop-up sites – which are the easiest by far to accommodate – return on average £13,000 in extra revenue per year, and many take tens of thousands of pounds more than this.

“It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that they’re becoming so popular among farms and land-owning businesses. We expect to see many more farmers try this kind of diversification as we come out of lockdown and the summer gets closer.”

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Farming

FUW calls for Welsh policies for Welsh agriculture

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THE FUW has urged the incoming Welsh Government to develop bespoke, tailor-made policies that reflect global realities as well as Welsh economic, social, and environmental needs.

Five years ago, ahead of the 2016 Welsh Senedd elections, the Farmers’ Union of Wales warned of the unprecedented challenges facing the incoming Senedd Members and Government. Since then, those challenges have not only materialised but been exacerbated and added to. 

Outlining the big issues facing agriculture in Wales at a press conference, which launched the FUW’s 2021 Welsh Senedd Election Manifesto, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The materialisation of a far harder form of Brexit than had been promised by those who lobbied for our departure from the EU has restricted access to our main export markets on the continent in ways that are only beginning to be felt. 

“At the same time, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives beyond recognition and has highlighted the fragility of global food supply chains and the importance of a strong farming sector on which our domestic markets should be able to rely upon for commodity products.

“While such issues have been largely beyond the control of our devolved administrations, the reaction of the Welsh Government to the uncertainty and challenges faced by our agriculture sector has at times been bewildering and counterintuitive, not least in terms of its appetite for drastically increasing costs and restrictions while advocating untried and untested reforms of rural support policies.”

Meanwhile, UK Government cuts to Welsh rural funding – in a direct contradiction to promises made repeatedly by those who advocated Brexit – have added to the pressures on Welsh agriculture, the rural economy, and Welsh Government, said the Union President.

Through its manifesto and ongoing lobbying work, the FUW continues to be clear that Wales’ family farms lie at the centre of our rural economy, culture, and landscape, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of businesses involved in the Welsh food supply industry, and making innumerable other contributions to the well-being of Welsh and UK residents – benefits central to which is the production of food, our most precious commodity alongside water.

“Moving forward we need policies which reflect the need to mitigate climate change and protect our environment, but such aspirations must be tempered by the knowledge that sweeping changes that undermine our family farms and food production will merely shift production to countries with lower animal welfare standards and higher global and environmental footprints” said Glyn Roberts.

Highlighting the disappointment of members over the years with the current Welsh Government, Mr Roberts added that rather than feeling that industry concerns have been taken on board and seeing proportionate measures put in place to safeguard the agricultural  industry, many consider the current direction of travel as a betrayal of devolution which directly threatens the agriculture industry and the culture, language and way of life which are intrinsically linked to Welsh food production.

Speaking from his farm in North Wales, he added: “With this in mind, I make no apology for highlighting our members’ frustration about the lack of bespoke Welsh policies regarding future farmingscheme proposals and tackling water quality issues put forward by the current Welsh Government, and the distinct feeling that those who govern us from Cardiff Bay are now more remote from and indifferent to our rural communities than ever.

“Welsh farmers are proud to produce world-leading food to environmental, animal health and welfare and food safety standards that are second to none, but these need to be regulated in a proportionate manner which does not stifle innovation, create unjustified restrictions and place Welsh farmers at a severe competitive disadvantage against other countries’ agricultural produce.” 

Such concerns are particularly pertinent in an era when the UK Government is proactively seeking to sign trade deals with countries with production standards which fall well short of those already required of Welsh food producers, and while the aspiration that further raising standards will provide our producers with a competitive advantage in high-end markets is understandable, it is also naive given what the data tells us about widespread consumer indifference to such standards both here and around the globe.

“Alongside other critical issues and priorities outlined in this manifesto, the FUW urges the incoming Welsh Government and Senedd to develop bespoke, tailor-made policies that reflect such global realities as well as Welsh economic, social and environmental needs and the seven Welsh Well-being Goals; policies that maintain our already high standards while ensuring Welsh producers are not undermined in ways that lead to greater imports of food from those with far lower standards than our own,” said the Union President.

For the period of the next Welsh Senedd and beyond, the FUW is committed to lobbying all those in Cardiff to ensure that agriculture and family farms receive the attention and respect that they warrant – for the sake of all our futures.

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Farming

Appeal for dog walkers to keep pets under control during lambing season

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THE LAMBING season is upon us and with many public paths crossing fields of sheep, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority is appealing to dog walkers to follow best practice when out in the countryside.

While walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail and other public footpaths and bridleways:

Always keep dogs on a short lead and under close control when sheep or any other livestock are present.
Clean up after your dog; bag it and bin it wherever you can or take it away –please do not leave poo bags in the countryside.

National Park Authority Public Rights of Way Officer, Meurig Nicholas said: “If your dog is out of your sight or left out of control, it may chase after, attack or worry sheep. Worried and stressed pregnant sheep can miscarry or abort their lambs.

“Young lambs are also very vulnerable at this time, and can get distressed and even die if they are separated from their mothers or abandoned after being chased by dogs.”

There have also been incidents where dogs have had to be rescued from cliffs because they were not kept under close control.

Mr Nicholas added: “These situations have resulted in emergency services such as the Coastguard and RNLI having to retrieve and rescue dogs. These incidents are avoidable and add unnecessary pressure to our busy emergency services.”

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