Rural crime

Rural crime is increasing and it's a serious issue for countryside communities, farmers and businesses.

The scale, cost, social impact and other effects of crime in rural areas are often underestimated, under-reported and not fully understood.


Every year rural crime costs millions of pounds across the UK. For example, in 2018 it cost the farming community almost £50 million.

Added to this is the cost of illegal fly-tipping on private land, which is estimated to be between £50 million and £150 million each year to clear up. 

And latest figures show the number of attacks on ATMs has doubled over the past four years. It’s estimated that the cost of ATM attacks to communities over the past 12 months is around £150 million

Report rural crime 100% anonymously on 0800 555 111 or click here

Human cost of rural crime

Behind these headline financial figures are thousands of personal stories from people in rural areas of disrupted businesses, physical threats, emotional upset and cruelty.

Farms are family homes as well as businesses. Knowing your farm is being watched and potentially targeted by criminal gangs can lead to long-term anxiety and emotional health issues for people living and working in rural communities.

In the case of ATM thefts, it is often the elderly and vulnerable in rural communities who suffer the most when cash machines are damaged or destroyed during an attempted robbery. These people are less likely to be able to travel elsewhere to another machine to gain access to cash.

Plus wildlife, equine and livestock crimes can bring great pain and suffering to farm and wild animals, and in the worst cases the animals lose their lives.

The most common rural crimes are:

  • Burglary - including gun theft
  • Theft of farm equipment, vehicles and machinery
  • Livestock-related crimes: theft, dog attacks and fly-grazing
  • Fly-tipping
  • Hare coursing and badger baiting
  • ATM theft
  • Poaching & illegal hunting
  • Domestic abuse
  • Equine crime
  • Fuel theft
  • Fraud and cyber crime
  • Wildlife crime
  • Heritage crime
  • Arson

Rural crime types in more detail

Tools, quads/ATVs and machinery top the thieves’ wish lists.

Farm machinery is often expensive and farms are dependent on it. A stolen tractor could mean crops can’t be harvested, or a stolen quad bike means livestock can’t be fed. There isn’t a big market for second-hand farm machinery in the UK, so high value items can often be stolen to order and then sent abroad.

Farmers have experienced violence when confronting thieves on their land, which is often remote and difficult to secure. 
This can be a lucrative criminal activity due to the prices that can often be received for cattle and sheep. Farmers can regularly lose one or two animals, and in some cases hundreds of animals are taken at a time, which can have a huge impact on their livelihoods.

Stealing significant quantities of animals from a field, by its nature, requires organisation as stock needs to be handled and housed. The theft of stock leads to significant financial losses, and can also have further impacts on businesses, including the loss of breeding stock.
Fly-tipping has changed from a van load of building rubble left in a gateway to lorry-loads of hazardous waste being dumped on farm land.

Large-scale, industrial fly-tipping is simply the illegal dumping of large amounts of waste, usually on farmland. Waste can be costly and time-consuming to remove.

When fly-tipping takes place on private land, it is the landowner’s responsibility to remove the dumped waste, often at great cost. 

Fly-tipping is a serious threat – to the health of grazing animals, wildlife, to the environment, and especially to landowners who are often left to deal with the aftermath themselves.
Hare coursing is a blood sport where dogs are used in the pursuit of hares, often for the purposes of betting. It takes place on areas of flat, open land where the dogs can easily and visibly pursue the hare. It is typically carried out by large groups of people who travel long distances.

It has evolved into a nationally organised crime with huge sums changing hands through online betting.

Hare coursing is illegal under the Hunting Act, but it also has other impacts. For example, fences and gates can be damaged by vehicles forcibly trying to gain access to land. Once in a field, it is common practice to film the chase from a moving vehicle, which can inflict significant damage to the field and any crops within it.

Farmers who challenge hare coursers are often threatened with physical violence to themselves or their families.

Badger-baiting is a similar activity where dogs are set on badgers, typically resulting in the death of the badger, and potentially serious injuries being inflicted on the dogs.
​ATM crime is not victimless - it has an effect on the individuals, business and the wider community who heavily rely on ATMs. 

It is often the elderly and vulnerable in our communities who suffer the most when cash machines are damaged or destroyed during an attempted robbery, as these groups are less likely to be able to travel elsewhere to another machine to gain access to cash.

New figures show the number of attacks on ATMs has doubled over the past four years. It’s estimated that the cost of ATM attacks to communities over the past 12 months is around £150m

Despite the fact that up to 4 out of 5 ATM attacks result in no money being stolen, the attack itself usually means that the cash machine can be out of action for weeks, denying rural residents access to local banking.
Poaching commonly means the illegal killing of deer, rabbits, fish and game (hare, pheasants, partridges, grouse, heath or moor game and black game, plus ptarmigan in Scotland).

Laws concerning wildlife poaching differ between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These laws typically cover rights of access to land and trespass, and whether someone is authorised to fish or hunt game etc.

Nowadays, modern poaching gangs often drive 4x4 motor vehicles, with a number of dogs and weapons. The animals they kill may be for food, but are more often for selling on at a profit.
In July 2019, the National Rural Crime Network published the results of an 18 month intensive research project on domestic abuse in rural areas, ‘Captive and Controlled’. 

It revealed a disturbing picture of domestic abuse in rural Britain with hidden victims – isolated, unsupported and unprotected.

In summary, their report finds:
  • Abuse lasts, on average, 25 per cent longer in the most rural areas
  • Traditional, patriarchal communities control and subjugate women
  • The policing response is largely inadequate
  • Support services are scarce – less available, less visible and less effective
  • The more rural the setting, the higher the risk of harm
  • Retreating rural resources make help and escape harder
  • Rurality and isolation are deliberately used as weapons by abusers
  • The short-term, often hand-to-mouth, funding model has created competing and fragmented service provision
  • Close-knit rural communities facilitate abuse
  • An endemic data bias against rural communities leads to serious gaps in response and support
More information on their report is here.

We also have a blog post, which highlights the issues around domestic violence in rural areas.
Equine crime affects working stables and equestrian centres and includes offences like animal theft, tack theft and horse/pony abuse.

Every year horses, ponies and equine equipment worth hundreds of thousands of pounds are stolen across the country.
Wildlife crime is often very cruel, and the criminals responsible seldom limit their cruelty to animals.

Many wild animals are protected by law in the UK, and it is illegal to buy, sell or harm them.

Here is a list of the types of wildlife crime, in addition to the hare coursing and poaching mentioned in the above sections.
  • Badger persecution
  • Bat persecution
  • Raptor persecution
  • Theft or disturbance of freshwater pearl mussels
  • Theft or disturbance of wild birds, their eggs and/or nests
  • Theft or disturbance of wild animals, plants or habitat
  • Animal cruelty
  • Introduction of invasive species
  • Hunting with dogs, e.g. deer and fox hunting.
Heritage crime is any offence which harms the value of heritage assets and their settings.

The cost to communities of heritage crime is enormous, not just in monetary value but in social costs. History fascinates many people, and the damage being caused could deny future generations the opportunity to enjoy our heritage.

The main heritage crime types are:
  • Architectural theft – in particular metal and stone
  • Criminal damage – in particular damage caused by fire
  • Unlawful metal detecting (‘nighthawking’)
  • Unlawful disturbance and salvage of maritime sites
  • Anti-social behaviour – in particular fly-tipping and off-road driving
  • Unauthorised works to heritage assets
  • Illicit trade in cultural objects
Heritage assests include:
  • Listed buildings
  • Scheduled monuments
  • World Heritage Sites
  • Protected marine wreck sites
  • Conservation areas
  • Registered parks and gardens
  • Registered battlefields
  • Protected military remains of aircraft and vessels of historic interest
  • Undesignated but acknowledged heritage buildings and sites

Your information matters

Information is the life-blood of many criminal investigations. It is often the process of piecing this together which leads to results.

Increasing the quantity and quality of information received from the public leads to more arrests, charges and convictions.

Telephone calls to Crimestoppers are not recorded and phone numbers used are not recorded or tracked. The online form is also totally anonymous, with no recording or tracking of internet sources or IP addresses. So there is no way we, or the criminals, can find out who called us with information.

Report rural crime 100% anonymously on 0800 555 111 or click here

Rural crime report 2019

Heritage and Cultural Property Crime National Strategic Assessment 2017

Poaching of Game, Deer and Fish