PARTS of rural Britain have become a ‘poachers’ paradise’ because of reductions in police manpower, West Somerset’s MP has claimed.

Conservative Ian Liddell-Grainger says a cynical disregard of rural crime by police forces has exposed livestock farmers to huge and unsustainable losses.

Now, he says, the Government must prioritise the countryside as it implements its pledge to increase police manpower.

However Avon and Somerset Police says it has maintained the neighbourhood teams of PCs and PCSOs based in the district’s communities, including rural areas, throughout the austerity period.

Mr Liddell-Grainger said the gradual withdrawal of police resources from the countryside was now leaving farmers unacceptably exposed to the activities of criminal gangs.

“Rustlers are getting more and more brazen in their activities, their hauls are getting larger and they are even operating in daylight – all because they know the chances of them ever getting caught are close to zero,” he said.

“The days when police would organise observation patrols in areas where rustling was known to be taking place have long gone. It’s become a poachers’ paradise out there."

Mr Liddell-Grainger said complaints about the lack of police in the countryside had continued to mount up.

He added “Farmers have pretty much given up hope of ever recovering stolen machinery or equipment; all they are offered is a crime number to pass on to their insurers.”

Avon and Somerset Police says it kept the neighbourhood teams of PCs and PCSOs - including in rural areas - despite austerity measures imposed by the government.

A police spokesman said: “We’ve had to make difficult decisions to close police stations and have lost more than 700 police officers from other teams.

“However during this time we have also invested in a Rural Crime Team whose role is to engage with our rural communities, offering support, sharing information on criminal activity, promoting crime prevention advice and encouraging people to report incidents.

"Our Rural Crime Forum is another way we listen and we urge people to join Farm Watch.

“Our figures show a reduction in reported rural crime since 2017 of 36 per cent.
“There were 1176 incidents given a rural crime tag in 2017, 1,010 in 2018 and 747 last year.
“In 2018 we had two reported incidents in which the theft of sheep or cattle were recorded, which increased in 2019 to six.

“We always encourage people to report crime. We need to have an accurate picture of what’s happening, so that we can deploy our resources most effectively.”

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens she was aware of the devastating impact rural crime can have on local people.

PCC Mountstevens said: “Despite police cuts in recent years, we have invested in a Rural Crime Team who have continued to engage with rural communities, offer crime prevention advice, share information about criminal activity and reassure local people. 

"We have also invested in a Wildlife Officer who encouraging local people to report wildlife crime and working with various partner organisations to tackle this issue.

“We encourage people who live in rural communities to join Farm Watch, Horse Watch or Neighbourhood Watch schemes. 

"By working together with the police and sharing knowledge, local people can help the Constabulary to deter criminals.”