Sharp rise in rural crime recorded amid cost of living crisis

Farm vehicles remain a top target as Land Rover Defender, quad bike and trailer thefts continue to plague the countryside
Farm vehicles remain a top target as Land Rover Defender, quad bike and trailer thefts continue to plague the countryside

This year has seen a sharp rise in rural crime as the cost of living crisis hits the countryside, new claims data shows, following two years of decreasing rural theft during the pandemic.

The first quarter of 2022 has seen thieves making up for lost time, with costs of rural crime over 40% higher than the same period last year.

Farm vehicles remain a top target as Land Rover Defender, quad bike and trailer thefts continue to plague the countryside.

Livestock rustling has also become more lucrative for criminal gangs, with farm animals worth an estimated £2.4m stolen.

The concerning figures are included in NFU Mutual's 2022 Rural Crime Report, released on Tuesday (2 August).

The crime wave has prompted the insurer to issue urgent advice and a series of videos to help farmers take action to protect their property.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Our latest claims figures warn that rural theft is quickly gathering momentum as criminals make up for time lost over the past two pandemic years.

"We’re advising rural people to review their security, to help prevent crime and disruption."

The report shows that criminals continued to plague farmyards stealing high-value farm machinery as the cost of farm vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual remained at over £9m last year.

Land Rover Defender owners battled crime as the rocketing value of second-hand cars and replacement parts saw thieves stealing the iconic British 4x4 vehicles and stripping them down, with the cost of claims shooting up by 87% to £2.6m.

Although NFU Mutual saw the cost of stolen quad-bikes and ATVs fall 11% to £2.2m in 2021, almost half of those thefts took place from September to December.

As shipping delays and the effects of Covid and Brexit contributed to low supply and a rise in demand, thieves turned their sights back to these easily portable, hot-ticket items to capitalise on growing waiting lists and soaring market values.

Meanwhile, soaring food prices could mean that livestock theft now increases, raising concerns about food security, animal welfare and people's health due to stolen animals being slaughtered in unhygienic conditions.

The number of fuel theft claims fell from 2020 to 2021, but with record high prices for diesel and heating oil, claims data from the first half of this year indicates the frequency and cost of fuel theft claims have more than doubled compared to the same period in 2021.

In a new poll of the rural community by NFU Mutual, almost half of respondents (49%) said that fuel theft was now their greatest crime concern.

Ms Davidson said: “With prices of essential farm equipment such as tractors and quads rising fast and the cost of diesel soaring over the past year, there’s little doubt that criminals will be trying to steal from farms.

"We also know that essentials of rural living like heating oil tanks will only become more attractive to thieves as costs rise. A recent poll reveals that 89% of respondents believe inflation will lead to an increase in rural crime.

“Crime in the countryside causes high levels of anxiety and disruption, with many farmers and rural home owners feeling vulnerable due to their isolated location."

Last year NFU Mutual invested £430,000 in rural crime initiatives. This includes support for an agricultural vehicle theft unit at the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) which recovered stolen vehicles and farm machinery worth £2.6m last year.

The unit delivers intelligence, training, and works with police forces to combat rural crime, in addition to joint international operations to seize stolen machinery from overseas.

Following increased investment with NaVCIS and one-off grants to help police tackle GPS theft, NFU Mutual saw the cost of this crime fall by almost half to £1.5m in 2021.

Without GPS – an essential part of modern farming – harvests can be delayed, and some farmers left unable to work.

New advice on protecting rural property to avoid becoming a victim of rural crime is being made available to country people in NFU Mutual’s 2022 report and the insurer’s latest advice videos.

Ms Davidson added: “Every farm needs a different approach to keeping thieves out - and there’s an armoury of measures to help do so, from traditional fortification, to technology using movement sensors, to community information networks.”