ANIMAL rights protests, trespass and theft of expensive farm kit are among the biggest crime fears in the countryside, a survey suggests.

The Countryside Alliance asked its Sussex members about their concerns in an annual survey.

It found that more than 40 per cent of members had been the victim of a crime in the past year and a majority believed rural crime in the county has gone up.

One in five did not report their concerns to the police, saying they saw no point in doing so or believed there was nothing the police could do.

Flytipping, thefts from outbuildings and dog attacks on livestock were also big concerns.

Among the 228 responses, 37 per cent said they feared animal rights activists.

In January The Argus reported on how more than 100 protesters from animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) had gone to Hoads Farm in Broad Oak, near Hastings, under cover of darkness.

The group wanted to “hold the free range industry accountable” and live-streamed footage inside the farm.

The activists also chained themselves together on the farm’s driveway.

Countryside Alliance head of policy Sarah Lee said: “Good rural policing is about far more than numbers of police officers on the ground.

“If we truly want to tackle rural crime, then we must form effective partnerships between the police, rural communities and other authorities to ensure that the needs of our rural communities are truly understood so that the availability of services matches those needs.

“It is clear from these results that there is a lot to do in tackling rural crime and working with communities to ensure the impact of it is lessened and to tackle the crime problems rural communities face.”

The alliance says those in rural spots may feel more isolated so fear of crime has risen and many sense that rural crime is not taken seriously.

Those responding believed rural policing has not improved since the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners in 2012.

Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said: “Through my ongoing consultations with rural residents, famers and landowners, I know that our countryside communities can sometimes feel isolated and less policed than people in urban areas.

“We have seen an increase in reports of flytipping and expensive equipment theft as well as other crimes affecting the countryside.

“I want to reassure our rural residents that these crimes will not be ignored.”

Sussex Police have set up a rural crime team, with more cash to fund enforcement and boost the force’s presence.

Chief Inspector Steve Biglands said: “We are keenly aware of the significant impact that these types of crimes have on our remote communities and the implementation of this new team is designed to provide a direct link between those more isolated and the police.

“We want to encourage reporting of rural crimes, because with this insight, we are able to deploy the team to where they are most needed in order to protect the most vulnerable. We have a substantial number of rural residents and businesses in Sussex and they deserve our protection.

“We want to reassure the residents of Sussex we are here to disrupt rural crime, to catch those who think they can get away with it, and to ensure our more isolated communities feel safe. There have been cases of animal thefts, quad bike thefts and numerous other countryside offences.”