A Peebleshire farm has hosted a visit by Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, as efforts are stepped up to tackle the problem of agricultural crime.
Gavin Marshall, owner of Baddinsgill Farm in West Linton – which is a member of Scottish Land & Estates – met with Mr Wheelhouse and Christine Grahame MSP, convenor of the parliament’s Justice Committee. They were joined by representatives of Scottish Borders Council and Police Scotland.
The visit was set up as politicians look at strategies for tackling the increasing problem of farm crime and other offences in rural areas.
Baddinsgill Farm has been the victim of several counts of livestock theft in recent years, and Mr Wheelhouse was told about the measures that the farm has taken to prevent the problem and what else farmers believe could be done by government and other public agencies to help clamp down on the issue. Discussions also took place on how farm crime is dealt with in the judicial process.
Gavin Marshall, owner of Baddinsgill Farm, said: “We appreciate the time taken by Mr Wheelhouse and Ms Grahame to visit the farm and discuss with us the issues we have faced with agricultural crime.
“The farm has dealt with several instances of sheep rustling and it has presented a real financial challenge to our business. It was only when we became victims ourselves that we learned how widespread the problem is in towns and villages across Scotland, with other types of crime such as break-ins and equipment theft also threatening the livelihood of farmers across the country.
“There are many measures we have taken in an attempt to prevent future incidents and we continue to liaise with neighbouring businesses and residents in an effort to share information. However, more can be done in partnership with police and public agencies and we welcome renewed efforts by government to tackle this problem blighting communities across the country.”
Andrew Midgley, Head of Policy at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Incidents such as sheep rustling are traditionally seen as ancient crimes but it has been something that we have seen occurring more and more over recent years.
“Evidence would suggest that organised gangs are playing a large role in agricultural crime and organisations such as Scottish Land & Estates are willing to work with police and government as we look to find solutions to address the problem head on.
“Rural communities may seem like an easier target for criminals but there is a real determination from businesses such as Baddinsgill Farm to ensure that this matter is taken seriously. Not only is agricultural and rural crime unsettling for the victims, it creates a heavy financial burden that countryside businesses can ill afford.”
Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse said: “Recorded crime in Scotland is at its lowest level in 40 years thanks to our police officers and staff who are keeping communities in all parts of the country safe. We know however that agricultural crime can pose particular challenges thanks to the rurality of the locations in which such crimes occur and there can also be delays in identifying when a crime has actually occurred where extensive grazing systems are deployed – and this visit to Mr Marshall’s farm highlighted such issues very clearly.
“However, I’m encouraged by the partnership approach being taken to address the challenge, with farmers working closely together. I know Police Scotland and other organisations are very keen to clamp down on such crimes, but what became clear is that we need to encourage farmers and others to report all crimes so we can assess the scale of the issue and its impact on a key rural sector, and ensure Police Scotland can deploy appropriate resources. We will continue to work closely with those in the industry to ensure we gain a comprehensive understanding of crimes against farm businesses.
“A working group has been established in Police Scotland to standardise their approach to the Farm Watch process using expertise and intelligence from each of the eight legacy police forces and Police Scotland now have a designated lead officer and a network of local lead officers.
“A text alert scheme piloted in the Highlands and Islands is also currently being rolled out throughout Scotland and has proved successful in detecting any signs of criminality on farm land and alerting neighbouring businesses. The success of this and Farm Watch has resulted in a real reduction in opportunistic crime. Farm Watch membership provides local farmers with a preventative kit which includes display notices, a Smartwater kit to covertly mark farming equipment and a security survey, but we will continue to look at ways to better protect our farmers from such criminality.
“Following this very useful visit, I will explore what more the Scottish Government can do to help address agricultural crime and I want to thank Mr Marshall, Christine Grahame MSP and Scottish Land & Estates for facilitating our meeting.”