Metal thieves who steal items such as gates and copper wiring from farms will be given harsher penalties in future due to a government crackdown on theft offences.
Gates removed from farm fields, lead stolen from roofs and copper cable taken from phone lines cause major problems to farm businesses.
The Sentencing Council published new guidelines for theft offences on Monday (5 October).
The new rules will allow judges and magistrates to take into account damage to farm buildings, churches, historic sites and war memorials.
Scrap metal thieves could face up to six years in jail and those who buy the stolen goods could be jailed for up to eight years.
Countryside groups have welcomed the tougher sentencing guidelines.
The Country, Land and Business Association (CLA) said the guidelines would be especially welcome in rural areas where metal theft caused “considerable stress and hardship”, which often went “far beyond the financial value of the items taken”.
CLA Midlands director Caroline Bedell said: “Metal theft might seem trivial compared with other crime, but a stolen farm gate can lead to escaped livestock putting life and limb at risk.
“Theft of copper power cable or roof lead, bring their own, obvious, dangers, and a loss of power or communication as a result of stolen equipment can put a rural business out of action and livestock at further risk.”
Devon and Cornwall Police is appealing for help to catch thieves responsible for stealing £2,000 worth of copper wiring from a solar farm under construction near Plymouth.
Thieves struck sometime between 7am and 9am on 28 September at the Mendenick solar farm which sits on the B3247 between Millbrook and Tregantle Fort. Anyone with information is asked to call Torpoint police on 101