Cost of rural crime to farmers in North Yorkshire rises by 23% in one year as NFU Mutual reveals county is one of UK's worst-hit

Organised criminality is spreading through villages, farms and fells "like a wave", a report has claimed.

The report by farmers' union NFU has revealed the increasing costs of rural crime to farmers, with the financial impact in North Yorkshire rising by 22.6 per cent in the last year.

North Yorkshire is third in a list of worst-affected counties and rural crime last year cost the county an estimated £2,194,124 – up from £1,790,062 in 2018.

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Last month, two suspected poachers were caught on land near Appletreewick in Craven in the middle of the night after residents spotted their torches.

Police in North Yorkshire are seeing rises in reports of crimes such as sheep-rustling and quad bike thefts from farms

The month before, a driver was arrested on the A629 near Skipton after officers spotted his vehicle had a false licence plate. The 33-year-old from Bradford was arrested in connection with a theft of an all-terrain agricultural vehicle from Pateley Bridge which was reported several weeks earlier.

Police in the county have also seen spikes in sheep-worrying incidents in recent months and say this may be connected to more people walking their dogs in the countryside during the lockdown.

West Yorkshire is also badly affected by crimes such as sheep-rustling, fly-tipping and tractor theft, and was incurred £1,398,897 last year by such crimes. However, this figure was a fall from £1,526,966 the year before.

The overall cost to Yorkshire and the North East was £8.6m last year.

Police in North Yorkshire are seeing rises in reports of crimes such as sheep-rustling and quad bike thefts from farms

Rising crimes, according to the report, include agricultural vehicle theft, the costs of which rose to £9.3m last year, and quadbike thefts - the latter of which North Yorkshire Police were called over twice a week last year. The theft of livestock also spiked and similarly cost farmers £3m last year.

NFU said it is also seeing a rise in the numbers of Land Rover Defenders being stolen from farms to be sold on the black market.

Criminals continued to target the countryside earlier this year despite the Covid-19 lockdown, the report shows, and agricultural experts say they are worried this may escalate as the economic impact of the pandemic looms.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist, said: "These crimes, compounded by the extra pressure of Covid-19, can seriously affect the wellbeing of farmers who work long hours and often in isolation.

Rural crime cost farmers in the North East & Yorkshire region an estimated 8.6m last year

"Rural crime is like a wave as organised criminality spreads through our villages, farms and fells, affecting everyone in the countryside.

"Now, as the economic impact of the pandemic begins to bite, we are concerned that criminal activity could escalate – making it more important than ever that we work together to stem the tide."

But despite the rising wave of criminal activity, farmers and rural residents are wising up and fighting back.

Tracking devices on agricultural vehicles are being increasingly used to detect when they have been stolen, with one such device used to search for suspects after quadbikes were taken from a barn near Catterick last month.

Farmers and rural residents have set up WhatsApp groups to keep in touch with each other and with police about crimes happening in their areas

In April, a tracker also helped recover two bikes stolen from a farm between Harrogate and Otley.

Rural Watch groups comprised of farmers, landowners, gamekeepers, business and estate owners also mean North Yorkshire residents in rural areas have direct contact with each other and with local officers to alert one another to incidents.

Inspector Matt Hagen, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: “We know that offenders from areas outside North Yorkshire travel into our communities, intent on stealing quad bikes, 4x4s, farm machinery, tools and other valuable property – and those crimes are reflected in the latest figures from NFU Mutual.

“The report also shows that criminals continued to target the countryside, despite the Covid-19 lockdown.

"Rural crime did not stop – and neither did rural policing. Our officers, some of whom have farming backgrounds, know just how devastating rural crime can be for its victims. That’s why we’re all committed to stopping criminals in their tracks.”