POLICE chiefs have vowed to clamp down on criminals targeting Barnsley’s rural outposts and taking advantage of quiet routes out of the county after pleas for action were made by farmers who have been left on the brink by high-value thefts.
According to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), 2020 and 2021 saw a reduction in thefts a decrease attributed to long spells of Covid-19 lockdowns before incidents started to climb last year.
Parish councils in Barnsley which represent the town’s most isolated villages suggest rates have surged by more than a third, leading police bosses to organise rural crime-specific meetings, such as one at Cubley Hall in Penistone last month, to hear farmers’ thoughts.
As well as residents from Barnsley, the event was also attended by local councillors and representatives from the NFU.
Datatag which manufactures anti-theft systems enabling police to identify the owners of stolen items held a stall giving advice to farmers and landowners on protecting their property.
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, revealed more resources will be allocated due to rural crime becoming a ‘growing trend’ across the borough.
“I often speak to farmers and those who live in rural areas whose livelihoods are blighted by crime on their land.
“The effect of offences within a rural environment can often be far-reaching and have a lasting impact on both individuals and their families, as well as the wider community.
“People in rural or smaller urban areas often feel that they have less of a claim on police resources than those who live in the bigger towns or the cities.
“Rural crime can range from theft of machinery and vehicles to organised crime theft of plant is often linked to organised criminality.
“By hearing the concerns of our rural residents and how crime, and the fear of crime, affects them, we can get a better understanding of the needs of our rural communities and ensure policing services are available to meet their needs.”
High-value machinery such as quads, tractors, horse boxes and agricultural machinery have all been stolen from local farms, while reports of poaching, fly-tipping and fuel theft have also been recorded by South Yorkshire Police.
Assistant Chief Constable David Hartley added: “Rural crime can have a devastating and detrimental impact on residents and businesses alike.
“It leaves those living in rural communities and farmers and business owners feeling even more isolated.
“Theft of machinery or damage to crops and fields can significantly affect farmers, not just financially but it can also impact on insurance premiums, food prices and damage local communities.
“We want to ensure that we are in a position to respond appropriately.
“We’re improving our visibility in our rural communities and working with them to respond quickly to reports of crime.
“We hope that these engagement events will be the start of an improved network to tackle those individuals intent on causing harm and disruption to our rural and farming communities.”
Paul Jameson, an officer in the rural and wildlife crime team, said more events will be planned to provide reassurance and update farmers and rural communities what is being done and achieved.
“These events are absolutely vital in allowing us to collaborate with farmers and landowners, who can often feel isolated in some of the more rural areas.
“Barnsley was the first event and the message was loud and clear that residents’ livelihoods are blighted by crime and antisocial behaviour on their land.
“Moving forward, we’re hopeful that improved communication amongst these communities will help in tackling rural crime and I was so pleased to see such a fantastic turnout at our first event and hope to speak with many more residents across the county at our upcoming meetings.”