Cost of UK rural crime hits 8-year high

The cost of rural crime in the UK has hit an eight-year high – up almost 9% in just 12 months.

In its 2020 Rural Crime Report, rural insurer NFU Mutual revealed the rural crime cost the UK £54 million in 2019.

While there have been some reductions in crime under lockdown, there are concerns that rural theft is set to escalate as the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic bites.

The figures are important as they are used by police forces to help them understand rural crime on their patch and plan responses.

Rural crime rose in every region and nation within the UK, with the biggest percentage increase seen in Scotland (44%).

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%.


What are thieves taking?

For the second year running, the sharp rises are being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles – accounting for an increase of nearly 25% to £9.3 million on agricultural vehicles.

Within that total, quad bike and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) theft rose by 21% to £3.1 million. In addition, Land Rover Defender thefts reported to NFU Mutual rose by 34% to £2.1 million.

Demand from overseas for expensive farm kit is fuelling the rise and in one joint operation between NFU Mutual and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, five vehicles totalling more than £100,000 were recovered from Poland earlier this year.

Livestock theft also increased in 2019 with the cost going up 9% to £3 million. Well-organised gangs taking large numbers of sheep, which are thought to enter the food chain illegally, are driving the increase.

A spate of sheep being slaughtered and butchered in farmers’ fields also contributed to the rise, and farmers continued to be affected by rustling during the pandemic – with initial figures suggesting an increase of nearly 15% year on year in April 2020.

Theft of tractor global positioning systems (GPS) is a major concern as farms move to precision technology to run field operations.

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.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “As well as the £54 million 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.

“Our provisional theft claims data for the first half of 2020 indicates that, while rural theft fell overall during the early part of pandemic lockdown, we’ve seen a number of trends including a spike in livestock rustling in April.

“There’s no doubt that organised criminal gangs are targeting our countryside again and these figures would be much higher if it weren’t for specialist rural crime teams in police forces, and improved farm security measures such as trackers for tractors and quads.

“However, it’s not good enough for one successful security measure or initiative to displace organised criminality to another area.”