OFFENCES such as sheep rustling and fuel theft are being targeted as part of a new crackdown on rural crime by Police Scotland.
The force said it was stepping up prevention measures amid estimates that countryside crime is costing the Scottish economy nearly £2 million a year.
Officers are seeking to combat crimes including livestock thefts, as well as vehicle thefts, fire-raising and housebreaking.
Chief Superintendent Gavin Robertson said police were dealing with opportunistic thieves, as well as also sophisticated groups responsible for livestock thefts.
He highlighted a recent example from Aberdeenshire, where a farmer suffered the “massive emotional and financial impact” of losing a flock of Beltex sheep.
He said: “It’s a mix of what is undoubtedly opportunism, but also some of it involves a degree of planning and logistics. Going in to remove a flock of sheep, for example, requires a certain amount of planning, reconnaisance and knowledge of how to move these commodities to a criminal market.
“From the economic impact of rural crime on communities to the personal impact that becoming a victim of crime can have, there is no doubt that a co-ordinated, preventative approach can make a real difference.
“We are working to target-harden rural communities and deter criminals. We know that we cannot achieve this alone and so this work is being carried out with a wide range of partners.”
According to insurer NFU Mutual, crime is costing rural communities an estimated £1.9m a year.
A steering group has been set up to tackle the issue and will meet for the first time later this month. Members include Police Scotland, the Crown Office and the National Farmers’ Union in Scotland.
Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual said certain crimes had “risen steadily”.
He said: “Vehicle crime especially is a major concern in Scotland and we have seen a dramatic increase in claims around quad bikes, amongst other things.
“It is for these reasons that initiatives like the one being launched by Police Scotland are so important. It is only by bringing together police, communities and all of those affected by rural crime, that we can make a lasting impact on rural crime.”
Legal affairs minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “Recorded crime in Scotland is at its lowest level in 40 years thanks to our police officers and staff who are working hard to keep communities in all parts of our country safe.
“Rural policing presents unique and particular challenges and I warmly welcome the introduction of the rural crime prevention steering group to focus on these important issues.
“Working in partnership and sharing best practice across a range of national agencies is key to reducing the threat from crime to Scotland’s rural communities and key sections, such as agriculture, where crimes can prove devastating to a farm business in terms of livestock or equipment.”
Catriona Dalrymple, head of policy at the Crown Office, added: “I want those who live in rural and agricultural communities to know that we are on their side, that we are working hard to ensure that they are protected.”