Livestock and landies targeted as cost of rural crime reaches £54m

The cost of rural crime is at an eight year high, and has risen almost 9% in just 12 months, according to NFU Mutual. The insurer's 2020 Rural Crime Report suggests that rural crime cost the UK £54m in 2019, and shows no sign of abating amid gloomy economic forecasts.

In 2019, rural crime rose in every region and nation within the UK. The biggest percentage increase was seen in Scotland (44%), although its rural crime cost remains below the UK average. The second highest regional rise was 18% in Northern Ireland followed by the East of England (16.9%). The lowest regional increase was in North East England, up 0.4%.

Quad bike and all-terrain vehicle theft rose by 21% to £3.1m. Land Rover Defender thefts reported to NFU Mutual rose by 34% to £2.1m. Demand from overseas for expensive farm kit is reportedly fuelling the rise; a joint operation between NFU Mutual and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service saw five vehicles totalling more than £100,000 recovered from Poland earlier this year.

Theft of tractor GPS is a major concern as farms increasingly digitise. Typically costing £8,000 to £10,000, GPS equipment has become a highly-prized item on the shopping lists of rural thieves, particularly during the COVID-19 lockdown where smaller, high-value items appear to have been targeted to meet demand overseas.

Gangs also take large numbers of sheep, which are thought to enter the food chain illegally. A spate of sheep being slaughtered and butchered in farmers’ fields also contributed to the rise.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Rural crime is like a wave as organised criminality spreads through our villages, farms and fells, affecting everyone in the countryside. We continue to work hard to stem the tide and are warning rural communities and helping with prevention advice, as there are concerns for the months ahead as the economic impact of coronavirus bites.

“As well as the £54m financial cost, there’s a serious effect on the mental well-being of people living in rural and often isolated areas. There are fears that the impact will be felt harder this year as farmers have been working flat-out to feed the nation and many rural communities have been put under additional pressure by the challenges brought by COVID-19.”

This year NFU Mutual invested £430,000 to tackle rural crime, including a police UK-wide agricultural vehicle crime tracking and recovery unit. The National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) co-ordinates farm machinery theft intelligence between NFU Mutual, police forces, Border Force and Interpol. The insurer has also provided funding for the welfare and shelter of stolen farm animals as police investigate and track down their owners.

To help farmers and rural businesses protect themselves for the new wave of organised crime, NFU Mutual has also joined forces with Security Exchange to fund a free-of-charge security service for existing D&O policyholders with AIG PrivateEdge. The service includes a telephone advice service, which can include on-the-ground support, from experienced security consultants, advice on cost-effective and innovative security measures; and rapid response in the event of a security incident.

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