RURAL DWELLERS are convinced that rural crime is getting worse but figures from the country‘s biggest farm insurance company suggest the situation may be improving.

NFU Mutual estimates that on a UK basis, claim figures for 2003 show an increase less than the rate of inflation, and in England and Northern Ireland they actually decreased.

In 2003, claims for thefts from UK farm properties, excluding tractors, totalled £11.5million – just 2.3% more than the total in 2002.

But a survey of the company‘s 598 agents has found that 60.5% of their customers think that rural crime has increased.

When asked about their perceptions, 82% said they were more worried about crime than a year ago, with only 2.6% less worried.

Part of the explanation may be that there are certain hotspot areas where the volume of crime is rising.

In the north-west, for example, the cost of crime has shot up by 41% in the past year and in Wales the value of claims has risen by nearly 60%.

Brian Heath, NFU Mutual‘s agent in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leics, said there had recently been a sudden upturn in rural crime in his area.

“We suspect that this is the work of a gang that moves from area to area, as the theft circumstances have been similar in nature.

“They have involved breaking into workshops, cropping locks, and in one incident, involved knocking down a wall to gain access.”

Four-wheel drives, horse trailers, ATVs and red diesel continue to be the prime targets for thieves.

Police in Craven in North Yorks recently warned Land Rover owners that nearly one in 10 had been stolen since the start of the year.