RURAL crime is making people feel isolated and scared, a councillor for the villages surrounding Swindon has said.

Coun Gary Sumner, whose Ridgeway ward includes villages like Chiseldon and Bishopstone, said people had noticed a recent increase in thefts from vehicles. He called on police to spend more time in rural areas.

“They prioritise their resources and they don’t spend a lot of time in the rural areas. We’ve had an increase in thefts from vehicles,” he said. “Rural crime is making people feel both scared and isolated."

The area regularly saw waste being flytipped and casual drug use in beauty spots like Barbury Castle, with nitrous oxide cannisters left in the wake of giggling revellers.

The councillor’s comments came as a National Police Chief’s Council so-called week of action shone a light on what Wiltshire Police is doing to tackle rural crime.

A dedicated unit, made up of two experienced constables, is based at the force’s Devizes headquarters. A further 23 officers across the county are wildlife and heritage crime specialists, with specific training to help them investigate crimes like church lead thefts, poaching and thefts of protected flowers.

Every PCSO will this week be encouraged to patrol rural areas and speak to owners of heritage sites. Insp Liz Coles said: "Our Community Policing Teams across the county, supported by our dedicated Rural Crime Team are committed to tackling crime in rural areas so that our residents can feel safe.

"Part of this is working with our communities to help reduce their risks of becoming a victim of crime. This week we will be highlighting some of the simple ways the public can help protect themselves, their properties and businesses.

"We are also making sure we get the message out there that it is vital all incidents, however small, are reported to the police. If incidents aren't reported to the police we can't have a clear picture of the true scale of the problem and allocate resources appropriately.

"We are asking the public to act as our eyes and ears and report anything suspicious to us on 101 or if a crime is in progress by calling 999."

This summer, police have seen a spike in the theft of lead from church roofs. Last month, two men were allegedly caught in the act of taking lead from St James’ Church, Devizes, by a vicar holding an all-night vigil.

PC Emily Thomas said: “These are historic buildings. Some may be ancient. You’re never going to replace what you’ve lost. The heritage has gone.

“Some of these churches have ancient stamps or graffiti on the lead. While the roof has been damaged you get rain coming in, especially at this time of year – it’s a disaster.

“It’s not just the cost of the lead, it’s the impact on the rest of the church."

She advised those who look after historic buildings make sure they don't leave out bins or wheelbarrows that could be used to carry lead away or ladders that make it easier to access roofs.

Last year, Bishopstone parish church was targeted by lead thieves. Coun Sumner said: “In smaller communities, places like Bishopstone, the church is the heart of the community. It’s like having something taken from the whole village.”