The cost of rural theft fell by 25.3% across the Midlands last year as the pandemic kept thieves out of the countryside
Thefts cost an estimated £7.9m in 2020, according to the latest figures from rural insurer NFU Mutual. The decline exceeds a fall of 20.3% to £43.3m across the UK as a whole – making it the lowest annual cost recorded in five years.
But highly-organised criminal gangs continued to plague farms – stealing GPS systems, agricultural vehicles and tools as they focus on smaller, high-value targets to get more “bang for their buck”.
UK-wide cost of claims for stolen GPS systems almost doubled last year to £2.9m, as global demand for hi-tech kit fuelled the crime wave. Other rural crimes, including dog attacks on livestock and fly-tipping rose sharply.
The value of sheep and cattle attacked by dogs shot up by 10.2% in 2020 to £1.3m. The situation continues to worsen with NFU Mutual warning that the cost of attacks rose 50% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year.
Fly-tipping in fields, gateways and country lanes reached epidemic proportions as waste recycling centres restricted access, leaving farmers to deal with the clean-up and risks to their health and that of their livestock and the environment.
NFU Mutual Midlands region manager Mike Adler said: “Coronavirus restrictions, beefed-up security on farms and more effective rural crime policing provided a welcome fall in rural thefts last year.”
But Mr Adler warned: “Rural crime hasn’t gone away. Thieves are now returning armed with new tactics and targets. As the economic impact of the pandemic bites, we are very concerned that rural theft may escalate significantly.
“Last year saw sharp rises in other crimes such as dog attacks on livestock which caused appalling suffering to farm animals and huge anxiety for farmers and their families as they dealt with the aftermath.”
Mr Adler said NFU Mutual was continuing to work with police, farmers, communities and other rural organisations to tackle rural crim. It was investing more than £430,000 in rural security schemes – helping to recover more stolen machinery.
“We believe this is vital support because rural crime isn’t just about money to replace stolen tractors. It causes disruption, seriously affects farmers’ mental well-being and destroys the trust which enables rural communities to flourish.”
Farmers and other rural residents should report suspicious sightings and crimes to the police, said Mr Adler. “By working together, we can help stem the tide when the criminals become more active again.”
Over the past two years, NFU Mutual has invested over £850,000 in the fight against rural crime – including a UK-wide agricultural vehicle crime tracking and recovery unit working with police forces, Border Force and Interpol.