People living in country areas need to be alert to keep crime in check, police said today.

Pc Peter Hale, who pioneered the prize-winning Countrywatch scheme, said crime in rural Oxfordshire was low compared with other counties.

He said: "We are fortunate, but the only way to keep things this way is for people to be much more aware. Farms and isolated properties are vulnerable, which is why we have a number of schemes including Horsewatch and Businesswatch.

"People in the rural communities often have a greater fear of crime because if just one property is broken into in a village, a number of families feel the effect." Oxfordshire has been at the forefront of tackling rural crime since Pc Hale launched Countrywatch eight years ago while based at Carterton police station.

The scheme is a partnership between police and organisations such as the National Farmers' Union and the RSPCA. It aims to encourage safety and security and make the countryside a safer place in which to live and work.

It has won many awards and has been copied by police forces in this country and abroad.

The problem of rural crime was highlighted by the life sentence handed down to Norfolk farmer Tony Martin after his conviction for the murder of 16-year-old Fred Barras. Barras was shot and killed by Martin while he and an accomplice were trying to burgle his remote farmhouse.

Martin, a former pupil at Cokethorpe School at Ducklington, claimed he was acting in self-defence and plans to appeal against his conviction.

He is serving his sentence at Bullingdon Prison, near Bicester, and has received the support of thousands of people.

Youngsters in rural areas are also involved in the Countrywatch scheme. Every year hundreds of primary school children take part in a week-long Junior Countrywatch.

Police, fire and RSPCA officers and other organisations take youngsters through demonstrations and talks designed to teach them to be more aware of their safety in the countryside.