Rural theft cost Buckinghamshire an estimated £785,000 in 2020, rural insurance company NFU Mutual has revealed in its 2021 Rural Crime Report, published this week.
As the pandemic helped to keep criminals out of the countryside, the county saw fall of nearly 10 per cent, compared to a regional decrease of 19 per cent in the South East.
Across the whole of the UK, the 2020 rural theft bill totalled an estimated £43.3 million in 2020, a fall of 20.3 per cent on the previous year, making it the lowest annual cost recorded in five years.
However, highly organised criminals continued to plague Buckinghamshire’s farmyards over the pandemic, stealing expensive equipment, agricultural vehicles and tools.
Across the UK last year, thieves turned their focus to smaller, high-value targets over the pandemic including farming Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Without GPS – an essential part of modern farming – harvests can be delayed, and some farmers left unable to work. NFU Mutual saw the UK-wide cost of claims for GPS almost double last year to £2.9 million, as demand across the globe fuelled the crime wave.
Other rural crimes, including dog attacks on livestock and fly-tipping rose sharply across the UK. The value of sheep and cattle attacked by dogs shot up by 10 per cent in 2020 to £1.3 million in a year which saw a surge in pet ownership and countryside visits. The situation continues to worsen as NFU Mutual claims data shows the cost of attacks rose 50 per cent 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.
Across English regions, the decrease in cost in the South East £7.1m (-19 per cent) was broadly in line with the national picture (-20.3 per cent).
Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Coronavirus restrictions, beefed-up security on farms and effective rural policing provided a welcome fall in rural thefts last year.
“While lockdown may have locked some criminals out of the countryside – 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.
“Organised criminal gangs also continued to target farmyards for high-value GPS systems, quad bikes and tractors with the UK cost of agricultural vehicle theft remaining at over £9 million - only a two per cent drop in cost from 2019.
“There’s no doubt that when we work together with police, farmers, communities and other rural organisations to tackle rural crime it can make a real difference. That’s why we’re investing over £430,000 in carefully targeted rural security schemes this year. The extra funding will help police join forces with local farmers, set up covert operations and recover more stolen machinery from countries across Europe.
“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 wellbeing and destroys the trust which enables rural communities to flourish.
“With more and more people using the countryside, we are urging the public to support farmers and rural communities by reporting suspicious sightings and crimes to the police. Farmers in the South East have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, keeping the nation fed and caring for the countryside. 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 police UK-wide agricultural vehicle crime tracking and recovery unit. The National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) co-ordinates farm machinery theft intelligence between NFU Mutual, police forces, Border Force and Interpol.
For more information on rural crime trends and advice, download the report at www.nfumutual.co.uk/ruralcrime 5,000 last year.