Countryside communities are being targeted by increasingly brazen criminals in a fresh crime wave which is forcing farmyards to be transformed into fortresses, a rural insurer has warned.
New figures published today show rural crime is costing countryside homes and businesses 20 per cent more in the first half of this year than during the same period last year.
The situation is “deeply worrying”, NFU Mutual said, with its theft insurance claims showing that rural crime costs rose in Yorkshire in 2016, reaching a total of £3.6m. That figure is £100,000 more than in 2015 and almost the same as the countryside crime bill amassed for the whole of Wales and North Ireland combined - £3.8m.
West Yorkshire was the sixth worst affected county in England, while North Yorkshire was ranked ninth.
Nationally, the cost to the UK of rural crime was four per cent lower last year, at £39.2m, compared to £41m in 2015.
Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “While the fall in rural theft in 2016 is welcome news, the sharp rise in the first half of 2017 is deeply worrying.”
The figures make for “grim reading” according to regional National Farmers’ Union (NFU) chief, Adam Bedford, and they show that criminals are becoming increasingly emboldened in their attempts to snatch high-value equipment from the region’s farms, the insurer said.
Criminals continue to target Land Rover Defenders, tractors and livestock despite increased security on farms, although the items most commonly stolen from rural areas last year were tools, all terrain vehicles, quad bikes and garden equipment.
Livestock thefts cost an estimated £2.2m last year and quad bike thefts, £2m.
John Skidmore, an NFU Mutual agent in West Yorkshire, said farmers were turning “farmyards into fortresses”, including kitting out machinery with tracking devices, to defeat criminals.
And on a human level, the growing threat of falling victim to crime is adding to the strain on farmers and their families.
The NFU Mutual’s Rural Crime Report reveals that being ‘staked out’ is the biggest worry for countryside communities, followed closely by longer police response times in rural areas.
Mr Skidmore said: “The threat of becoming a victim of rural crime, and regular reports of suspicious characters watching farms is causing high levels of anxiety amongst farmers who know their rural location makes them vulnerable to attacks.”
The NFU’s Mr Bedford called for a renewed focus from police forces and vigilance from farmers to counter the threat posed by criminals.
“Given the reports we receive on a regular basis of damage to land, loss of vehicles, machinery and livestock and in many instances threats and intimidation by criminals, stepping up the fight against rural crime must surely be one of our top priorities,” Mr Bedford said.