Tuesday, September 29, 2020

£54m crime bill as gangs target farm machinery and livestock

August 18, 2020 by  
Filed under News & Business

The cost of rural crime is at its highest level for eight years, with organised gangs targeting high value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

Rural crime cost the UK £54m in 2019 – an increase of almost 9% on the previous year, according to rural insurer NFU Mutual. The latest figures are contained in its 2020 Rural Crime Report, published on Tuesday (4 August).

Although some crimes reduced during the coronavirus lockdown, there are concerns that rural theft is set to escalate as the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic bites. Farm vehicles have gone missing, as well as smaller high-value items.

In 2019 rural crime rose in every region and nation within the UK. East Anglia saw the third largest regional rise, with a sharp increase of 16.9%. The lowest regional increase was in north-east England, up 0.4%.

Overseas demand

For the second year running, the sharp rises are being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles – accounting for an increase of nearly 25% to £9.3m on agricultural vehicles.

Within that total, quad bike and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) theft rose by 21% to £3.1m. In addition, Land Rover Defender thefts reported to NFU Mutual rose by 34% to £2.1m. Demand from overseas for expensive farm kit is fuelling the rise, it said.

Livestock theft also increased in 2019 with the cost going up 9% to £3m. Organised gangs taking large numbers of sheep – thought to enter the food chain illegally – are driving the increase. Initial figures suggest a year-on-year increase in rustling of almost 15% in April 2020.

Specialist advice

Theft of tractor global positioning systems is a major concern. Typically costing £8-10,000, GPS equipment has become a highly-prized item on the shopping lists of rural thieves, particularly during the lockdown where smaller, high-value items have been targeted.

NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist Rebecca Davidson said: “We continue to work hard to stem the tide and are warning rural communities and helping with prevention advice, as there are concerns for the months ahead as the economic impact of Coronavirus bites.

“As well as the £54m financial cost, there’s a serious effect on the mental well-being of people living in rural and often isolated areas. There are fears that the impact will be felt harder this year as farmers have been working flat-out.”

Repeat attacks

A survey last year found that one in four NFU Mutual agents knew someone who had been forced to change the way they lived or farmed as a result of crime and the biggest fear in rural communities was repeat attacks.