Gangs are pocketing millions as part of an organised criminal enterprise targeting tractors worth up to £80,000 to ship abroad.

Thieves are specifically focusing on arable counties in the east of England to steal high-value tractors to export to eastern Europe and across the globe.

New figures from the UK’s leading rural insurer, NFU Mutual, show Cambridgeshire bore the greatest cost of rural crime last year with claims amounting to £2.7m.

Top 10 UK counties by estimated cost of rural crime in 2013

  1. Cambridgeshire (£2.7m)
  2. Lincolnshire (£2.3m)
  3. Essex (£2.1m)
  4. Kent (£1.8m)
  5. Lancashire (£1.8m)
  6. Suffolk (£1.5m)
  7. North Yorkshire (£1.5m)
  8. Leicestershire (£1.3m)
  9. Co. Antrim (£1.2m)
  10. Somerset (£1.2m)

Lincolnshire, Essex and Kent were the counties with the next highest cost of claims at £2.3m, £2.1m and £1.8m, respectively, based on claims data from NFU Mutual branches.

“There’s no doubt that both opportunist criminals and members of international criminal gangs are targeting farms,” said Tim Price, NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist.

“While the first group will often move on to an easier target if they see a farm has basic security in place, the latter are professionally organised with a specific target, so it’s vital that farmers regularly review their security measures and update them to keep one step ahead of would-be thieves.”

The annual NFU Mutual Rural Crime Survey, published on Monday (11 August), also identified new rural crime trends this year.

Thieves have been targeting lower-value tractors not fitted with high-tech systems to export to developing countries.

Read also: Farmers foil brazen tractor hijack attempt

And the theft of pesticides from farm chemical stores is on the rise, with one farmer losing nearly £20,000 in a single raid.

The cost of livestock theft rose 25% across the UK, making 2013 one of the worst years on record.

Northern Ireland, which is currently suffering a spate of cattle and sheep rustling, was the most seriously affected part of the UK.

Large-scale sheep rustling in the north-west and north-east of England led to theft claims increases of 68% and 52%, respectively.

Domestic heating oil, farmers’ supplies of red diesel and tools and quad bikes were the most commonly targeted items during the past 12 months.

Quad bikes were again heavily targeted by thieves, with the cost of theft up 14% in 2013.

The survey revealed the cost of crime to the rural economy totalled £44.5m in 2013 – up 5.2% on 2012 figures. While the number of agricultural vehicles stolen fell, the value of claims increased.

The East Midlands, Northern Ireland, East Anglia and the North East experienced the largest year-on-year increases, at 38%, 15%, 12% and 12%, respectively.

“After a welcome fall in the cost of rural theft in 2012, it’s deeply disappointing to see it rising again,” added Mr Price.

“Much of this increase is from tractors – which can be worth up to £80,000 – being targeted by organised criminal gangs.”

As well as analysing its claims data, NFU Mutual surveyed its network of more than 300 local offices in rural areas of the UK for the survey.

Top 10 items targeted by thieves

  1. Tools
  2. ATVs/quad bikes
  3. Oil/diesel
  4. Machinery
  5. Garden equipment
  6. Livestock
  7. Tractors
  8. Trailers
  9. Vehicles
  10. Equestrian equipment

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