Rural criminals inflicted the biggest financial burden on countryside communities in West Yorkshire, according to a breakdown of insurance claims figures for the whole of the county.
The figures published today by rural insurer NFU Mutual show that the value of items stolen in rural parts of West Yorkshire last year rose by almost a third - 30 per cent - to £1.5m.
Rural thieves most commonly targeted all terrain vehicles, quad bikes, 4x4s and tools in West Yorkshire over the last 12 months.
While the figures only relate to claims received by NFU Mutual and therefore only offer one perspective of the true value and trends around rural crime, the figures suggest there is a worrying prevalence of rural crime elsewhere in the region too.
In North Yorkshire, the cost of rural crime in 2016 was found to total £1.1m, a rise of seven per cent compared to the previous year.
The increase in the value of rural crime was however the most stark in South Yorkshire where insurance claims received by NFU Mutual charted a huge 54 per cent hike, to £790,000.
Only East Yorkshire bucked the region’s overall rising trend, where the cost of rural crime fell by 47 per cent, from £400,000 in 2015 to £210,000 in 2016.
According to John Skidmore, an NFU Mutual agent in West Yorkshire, farmers are taking an increasingly high-tech and sophisticated approach to warding off the threat posed to their livelihoods by thieves.
Mr Skidmore said: “Rural crime in West Yorkshire has risen dramatically during the last 12 months, as countryside criminals are becoming more brazen and farmers are now having to continually increase security and adopt new ways of protecting their equipment.
“In some parts of the county, farmers are having to turn their farmyards into fortresses to protect themselves from repeated thieves who are targeting quads, tractors and power tools. They are using tracking devices on tractors, video and infra-red surveillance in their farm yards and even DNA markers to protect sheep from rustlers.”
A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police told The Yorkshire Post that the force was committed to tackling rural crime but that it would not be commenting directly on the findings of NFU Mutual’s 18th annual Rural Crime Report.
The spokesman said: “While the force cannot comment specifically on an insurer’s data regarding claims by its own customers, it is committed to trying to reduce all types of crime affecting businesses and fully recognises the concerns of those affected.
“West Yorkshire Police has crime prevention officers working in all districts of the county who can provide support to businesses, including rural ones, with regards to protecting themselves against crime.”
The spokesman added: “A crime reduction specialist from West Yorkshire Police is also due to attend a conference in September to discuss the wider issue of rural crime in the Yorkshire and Humber region.”
Although the £1.1m crime costs recorded in North Yorkshire are significant, the value of claims has risen by the least, year-on-year, of all the Yorkshire region’s that experienced higher rural crime costs last year, the insurer’s figures show.
North Yorkshire Police launched a Rural Taskforce in April 2016 and it is believed to be the largest unit dedicated to tackling rural crime in the country.
Adam Bedford, regional director of the National Farmers’ Union, praised the approach that was being taken by the force in England’s biggest rural county.
“We are fortunate that the approach being taken by North Yorkshire Police is one of the best in the country, with the establishment of their rural crime taskforce, but there is clearly a lot of work to do if the increase in crime being reported by NFU Mutual is to be reversed.”
The Yorkshire Post asked South Yorkshire Police to comment on the findings but the force was unable to provide a response in time.