BIG demand for farmers’ machinery in Europe - which has seen organised criminals target the town’s farms before evading the police - will be treated as a priority by rural crime officers, the Chronicle can reveal.

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.

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.

However, following meetings with farmers in areas such as Cubley and Penistone, more patrols have been carried out by the force’s rural crime unit to allay farmers’ fears over costly thefts.

A week of action took place last month which saw the team work with cross-border colleagues, neighbourhood bobbies and road policing units.

Sergeant James Shirley said: “This targeted activity highlighted the year-round efforts we’re taking to crack down on rural criminality and intercept those who pose a risk to wildlife, farmers’ livelihoods and our communities.

“Over the past couple of years there has been a big demand for plant machinery overseas in Eastern Europe.

“Offenders will quickly use shipping containers to remove the machinery from the UK, and earn money from the sales.

“I am pleased we have been able to recover these items quickly and our efforts to locate those responsible are still ongoing.

“While patrolling in the Peak District National Park near Penistone we came across a vehicle that had rammed the gates of the land and torn up the greenery.

“The vehicle was seized and he will now be processed for damaging land.

“We are passionate about rural crime and bringing offenders before the courts.

“Rural crime remains to be one of the most under-reported crimes and I urge anyone affected to get in touch online, via live chat or by calling 101.”

PC 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.

“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.

“The message is 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.”

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, confirmed more resources will be allocated in a bid to stamp out crime in rural communities.

“I often speak to farmers and those who live in rural areas whose livelihoods are blighted by crime on their land.

“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.”