Police forces are lacking dedicated officers, funding, and even torches in the fight against rural crime, a new report has found.

With rural crime nationally surging by 32 per cent since 2011, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is calling for political parties to focus on the issue ahead of next week's General Election.

The CLA put in Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to 36 police forces in England and Wales covering rural areas, with 20 forces responding.

The data provided shows many rural areas have no dedicated rural officers or ringfenced police funding, while common rural crimes such as fly-tipping, poaching and machinery theft do not have their own tags on police databases.

According to the FOI responses, Cleveland was one of three forces to report having no high-powered torches, and also has no 4x4 vehicles, rural drone surveillance kits or thermal spotters, which allow police to detect criminals in the dark.

Five forces had no dedicated rural officers or rural crime team, including Durham and Cleveland.

In response, both forces have outlined a series of initiatives and resources dedicated to the issue.

But Victoria Vyvyan, CLA president, said: “These findings show that our rural policing system is in crisis. There’s no serious national coordination, measurement, or even basic kit, to tackle surging rural crime.

“All forces need a rural crime equipment pack, including torches. We can’t expect police officers to tackle crime in the dark. And rural crime will remain unseen without proper tagging systems, backed by central funding and coordination.

“People living in the countryside feel treated like second class citizens by law enforcement. They need assurances, in this General Election and beyond, that this cannot go on.”

CLA Acting Director North, Henk Geertsema, added: “The challenges faced by police forces emphasise the importance of reporting crime in rural areas by those living, working and visiting there, as it would in turn, assist police forces in allocating scarce resources to crime hotspots in the countryside.”

The CLA is calling on political parties to issue a standard rural crime equipment pack to every rural force, alongside training, to be funded centrally, and to invest in universal data standards and tags to enable joined-up policing.

North Yorkshire Police, which was among the forces not to respond to the FOI request, established a Rural Task Force in April 2016.

"Since then we have worked extremely hard to tackle crime and other issues which affect rural areas of York and North Yorkshire," said Sergeant Mark Earnshaw, of the task force.

"Critical to our success are our dedicated officers' close links with the community – we talk to local residents and businesses, so we can understand the issues that impact them the most. That means we can respond flexibly and proactively, whether it’s mounting extra patrols, hosting crime prevention events or offering advice and support to victims.

"We're embedded in national initiatives, and work closely with national rural and wildlife crime leads, enabling us to react quickly to new crime trends and organised crime groups. This helps us to put our resources in the right places at the right times, which is vital in such a large area. We also have access to the latest equipment."

In response to the CLA report, a spokesperson for Durham Constabulary said: “A new scheme specifically tailored to support rural areas in County Durham and Darlington has helped recover stolen quads, led to more arrests and made rural communities feel safer.

“The initiative, Rurali, enhances the safety and security of rural and urban fringe communities through the gathering of crucial information and intelligence from residents.

“This scheme works alongside and supports long-standing Rural Watch schemes across the force area.

“Under the Rurali scheme, the force also has a dedicated intelligence officer whose role is to monitor information that is fed in by members of the public, they are supported by two rural and wildlife crime officers.”

Cleveland Police said its dedicated rural crime resources include a dedicated Rural Specials Crime Team supported by neighbourhood teams and rural volunteers, a rural crime coordinator who is purely dedicated to the issue, and four wildlife crime trained officers, plus two in training and three others due to begin training.

A spokeswoman added that all control room staff and frontline response teams have received rural crime training covering both wildlife and rural offences and drones are used frequently.

Chief Inspector Jon Hagen added: “As a force, we’re committed to tackling rural crime as we understand the huge impact it has on our communities.

“Our officers regularly carry out rural crime shifts during evenings to specifically target and prevent poaching, hare-coursing and other wildlife crime."