The cost of rural crime remained broadly static in 2016, but there were some significant spikes in the theft of tractors, quad bikes and livestock in the second half of the year.
“Sharp rises in tractor theft in eastern counties during 2016 have put the need for increased farmyard security back on the agenda,” said NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist Tim Price.
“Tractor theft peaked in 2011, when claims cost NFU Mutual £10m. Since then, improved security through installing CCTV, Datatag marking and trackers and co-ordinated policing have almost halved that figure.
“Essex is currently a particular hotspot for tractor thefts and we have seen an epidemic of quad bike thefts in the Yorkshire Dales. There has also been a general increase in rural crime in Scotland.”
Land Rover owners were told to beef up security amid reports of a sharp rise of thefts of the iconic vehicle after production ended in January, with claims for stolen vehicles increasing by 69% in North Yorkshire.
Rising prices for parts meant that some Defenders were being stolen and then stripped down and sold in bits
The recent rises have overshadowed positive news on rural crime from NFU Mutual’s annual rural crime report: latest figures revealed that rural crime was roughly level in 2015 – costing the UK economy £42.5m.
Livestock theft up
However, livestock theft (up 7% in 2015) remains stubbornly high, especially in Northern Ireland, the North East and the South West. At a total cost of £2.9m, 70% of thefts came from these three regions alone.
To tackle livestock theft, an NFU Mutual-funded “Ewe Hostel” livestock security scheme linking farmers, police and auctions was rolled out across the UK following a successful pilot in Lancashire.
The scheme involves the use of “lairages” (holding pens) to help farmers and livestock auction marts look after suspected stolen sheep while the police investigate.
Farm arson cost the industry an estimated £50m this year.
In Scotland alone, the number of fires in rural areas hit a five-year peak, with 343 fires on agricultural land recorded in 2015/16.
There was also evidence suggesting rural criminals were becoming more sophisticated in the way they operate, with cyber crime a growing concern.
Farm businesses faced an increased risk of fraud attacks through letters, texts and cold calls, according to Financial Fraud Action UK.
In May, NFU Scotland revealed that members in the Borders and Lothians area were tricked into handing over thousands of pounds by crooks claiming to represent their bank’s anti-fraud unit.