THE cost of rural crime in Dorset decreased last year, however farmers still feel "under siege" from countryside criminals.

A report assessing the impact of crime on rural communities has been published by rural insurer NFU Mutual, which has revealed it cost Dorset more than £685,000 in 2018 – a decline of 22.3 per cent from 2017 when the cost of rural crime in the county was more than £881,000.

The items most commonly targeted by thieves across the South West over the last 12 months were tools, ATVs/quads and machinery.

Simon Godding, NFU Mutual farming agent in Wareham, said: “One of the most alarming findings from this year’s report is that fear of crime is changing life in the countryside. From constant reports of thefts and suspicious vehicles touring the countryside and rural criminals regularly staking out farms, country people feel they are under siege.

“The report further reveals that limited police resources and repeat attacks are the biggest fears for people in rural communities, with many forced to change the way they live and work as a result of rural crime.

“Repeat attacks are causing widespread anxiety and exacerbating the problems of rural isolation amongst farmers who often work alone all day. Some farmers are so concerned about the risk of criminal attack they can no longer leave the farm with their family to attend local agricultural shows."

Mr Godding said farmers were combining "modern technology with physical fortifications" to prevent criminals from getting onto their land. "We’re seeing electronic devices like infra-red beams, which send alerts to mobile phones, and geo-fencing, which triggers an alarm if tractors go beyond farm boundaries. These technologies are proving to be effective weapons in the fight against rural crime. This is increasingly important because today’s determined thieves come armed with battery-powered angle grinders which can cut through chains and padlocks in seconds to access farm buildings and tool sheds.”

He added: “Our advice to people living and working in the countryside is to regularly evaluate your current security measures, making improvements where necessary, remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the local police and local farm watch schemes.

“The good news is that security technology is developing fast and we’re already clearly seeing that thieves avoid tractors fitted with good security kit and sheep that have been marked with microdots. Innovative use of social media to report criminal activity is also working well in some areas - and reducing isolation."