Farmers in the South West have been warned to ramp up security as "international criminal gangs" continue to target the region's agricultural machinery.
West Country farmers have been told to ramp up security by rural insurer NFU Mutual, as the gangs target tractors and clone them to sell abroad.
Rural crime cost the South West £5.9m in 2017, a rise of 5.3 per cent from the previous year. Devon has been particularly hard hit, with rural theft costing the county £532,585, up 46.8 per cent from 2016.
The items most commonly targeted by thieves in the South West were quad bikes and ATVs, tools and garden equipment, as well as livestock.
Chris Roberts, South West Regional Director of NFU Mutual, said there is a new breed of "brazen and determined" thieves who are using a combination of "brute force and technological know-how" to target the countryside.
He said: “Through NFU Mutual’s work to combat agri-vehicle crime, we know that tractors, telehandlers and quads are currently in high demand from organised crime networks which are using stolen goods as a form of currency following tougher money laundering legislation.
“Farm vehicle theft is big business for the organised gangs which are stealing expensive vehicles and farm equipment and either cloning it for sale here, or shipping it across the world.”
Devon and Cornwall Police will be joining NFU Mutual at Agrifest South West on 7 November in Exeter, to introduce two new dedicated Rural Affairs Constables who will work within each South West county to deliver a new Rural Affairs Strategy initiated by the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC).
Inspector Paul Morgan of Police HQ at Middlemoor said: “Our two new Rural Affairs Constables will build on the work of our Special Constabulary Rural Engagement Team to tackle a range of issues affecting people who live, work in or visit Devon and Cornwall including farm machinery, plant and vehicle theft, livestock theft, and fuel theft."
The Devon and Cornwall Police Rural Affairs Team are promoting five key prevention messages:
• Join and engage with Farm Watch and Neighbourhood Watch
• Keep vehicles locked and the keys with you or secured
• Consider tracking devices or data tracking chips
• Register valuable plant through the National Plant & Equipment Register
• All property should be recorded and photographed as part of an "Asset Register”