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County lines in the countryside

When you think of BBC One's Countryfile, what springs to mind? Wild walks? Wellies? John Craven? Yes, all those things are true. But Sunday's episode felt a little different. Strolling through the rolling hills of the beautiful British countryside, Lucy Belcher from our Prevention Team explains why county lines is not just a big city problem. It happens in the country too.


Not just big cities

Filming interview in the countryside

Not just big cities

When people think about criminal groups, exploitation, and drug trafficking, it is easy to assume that it only impacts children growing up in cities. That is what we see in films and on shows like Top Boy.

There is a perception that “exploitation doesn’t happen here”.

The truth is any child from any community can be groomed and made to carry drugs across the country. Children are exploited in cities, towns, and in the countryside.  

boots of young person on swing

What is county lines?

County lines is more prevalent in the UK than you might think. It's not just a 'big city problem' that affects young people from a certain age group or background.

Same methods, different dangers

Although all children are at risk, the ways in which criminals target and groom children may be slightly different to those living in cities. Children living in the countryside are often more isolated. Transport links are poor, jobs are scarce, youth clubs have closed. They may lack positive activities and safe spaces to hang out.

Positive outlets are really important for young people. Some children at risk of criminal exploitation even go horse riding!

facts about youth clubs


youth centres have closed since 2009 (YMCA)

£1.8 billion

in funding was cut from early intervention services

criminals target boredom

Criminals target their boredom. They might find them on social media or through gaming sites, pretend to be their friend, offer them excitement and easy money. It is appealing to young people who are cut off from friends and social opportunities. Criminals take advantage of this and it can quickly turn into violence, threats and abuse, grooming them through online gaming and social networks.

What happened to youth clubs

two teenage girls laughing together

Where did all the youth clubs go?

When cash-strapped councils are forced to close youth clubs, young people lose a safe space, a place to meet people, learn and have fun. Children need a positive outlet.  

If a youth club closes in the country, there might not be another one for miles. These long, unsupervised journeys may themselves be opportunities for criminals to groom children. 

Without youth clubs and other early support services, children are isolated. They are at greater risk of being groomed and the dangers they face go unchecked.  

young man on computer

What is online grooming?

With fewer positive spaces to socialise, young people may spend more time online. Criminals take advantage of this and groom children through social media and gaming platforms. 

Hidden in the countryside

Criminals may also look to target young people in the country because there is less of a police presence, more unmanned bus or train stations and sparse CCTV. They take advantage of the misconception that ‘exploitation doesn’t happen here’.

With less understanding about county lines criminal exploitation, fewer people will know what signs to look out for. Children who are being trafficked to move drugs can go unnoticed.  

But we can change this.

By understanding that criminal exploitation can affect any community and by learning how to spot the signs, we can help young people before they come to harm. Our accredited e-learning training — Act on Exploitation — is there to help your company create safer spaces for young people, your colleagues and customers.

boy looking worried on train

Warning signs of exploitation

If you live or work in rural areas, travel through the countryside or stay in local B&Bs, learning the warning signs of criminal exploitation could keep a child safe from harm.

Watch the full Countryfile episode

Learn more about county lines in the countryside and catch up now on iPlayer