Despite an overall fall in rural theft during lockdown, the downside was that when criminals struck, they struck harder, using new tactics to overcome security, according to the latest National Farmers' Union (NFU) Mutual rural crime report.
In demand across the globe, Tractor Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have become the rural thieves’ top target.
Gangs dubbed ‘Rural Wraiths’ are now using silent electric scooters to steal farmers’ £10,000 systems and make off along country lanes at high speed.
Without GPS systems – an essential part of modern farming – harvests can be delayed and farmers are left unable to work.
High-value quads and ATVs
Determined rural thieves increased the value of their hauls under lockdown by targeting farmers’ expensive quad bikes and side-by-side utility terrain vehicles (UTVs).
These vehicles, which can cost twice as much as a regular quad, now represent 14% of all quad and ATV thefts, compared to 11% in 2019.
Stemming the tide of rustling
Farm animals worth an estimated £2.3 million were stolen from UK farms last year, making rustling one of the most costly crimes for the UK’s farmers.
While coordinated policing and covid-19 restrictions led to the cost of rustling falling by a quarter, NFU Mutual said it is deeply concerning that large-scale, organised crime continues to cause suffering to animals, adding financial pressures to farmers and putting public health at risk.
Demand for lockdown pets drives dog theft
Over the last year, NFU Mutual has seen a rise in the cost of theft of both pet and working dogs, with some farms losing several sheepdogs at a time.
Some dog owners are no longer walking pets in remote locations, and others are changing their routines to protect their dogs from thieves.
Surge in dog ownership takes toll on livestock farmers
One effect of the lockdown surge in dog ownership and countryside visits has been a 10.2% rise in the toll of dog attacks on farm animals.
The cost of dog attacks on sheep and cattle was £1.3 million last year – and the situation is worsening; NFU Mutual claims data shows the cost of attacks shot up 50% in the first quarter of 2021.
NFU Mutual said that the story behind the figures is even more concerning.
Livestock worrying causes horrific suffering to sheep and cattle – and repeated attacks have devastated farmers and their families.
Fly-tipping in fields, gateways and country lanes reached epidemic proportions as access to waste recycling centres was restricted by lockdown and unlicensed operators dumped large volumes of waste.
Farmers fall victim to cyber scams
Cybercrime is another growing danger faced by modern farmers, with NFU Mutual research showing that 62% of customers have increased their internet use during the pandemic.
From phishing emails focusing on farm payments, to scam adverts for agricultural machinery, cyber criminals are creating tailored attacks to target the nation’s farmers.
According to the NFU, almost half (46%) of businesses have identified cyber security breaches or attacks in the past 12 months.