Extent of countryside crime revealed in NFU Mutual Rural Crime Report 2022

Farmyards and rural communities are being targeted by highly organised criminals, with vehicle thefts and crimes relating to animals and livestock being the biggest issues, a leading agricultural insurer has warned.

This week, insurer NFU Mutual published its 2022 Rural Crime Report which revealed that while the cost of rural crime dropped by 9.3 per cent in 2021 – the second annual fall since the start of the pandemic – early indications show that there is a worrying return to pre-pandemic crime levels, with costs up by over 40 per cent from the same period the previous year.

In its latest publication, NFU Mutual said that as prices rise, supply chains strain and crime gangs are able to travel more freely, it is concerned that thieves are already looking to make up for lost time.

Some of the biggest issues facing farmers to come out of the report is theft of vehicles that are essential to farming practices and incidents involving animals.

Farmyards and rural communities are being targeted by highly organised criminals, with vehicle thefts and crimes relating to animals and livestock being the biggest issues, a leading agricultural insurer has warned.

Vehicle Theft

Quad and all terrain vehicle (ATV) thefts reported to NFU Mutual cost £2.2m in 2021 and while this is almost 11 per cent down on the previous year, the data warns of a recent upward trend.

Almost half of quad and ATV thefts reported to NFU Mutual last year took place between September and December.

Last year also saw a sharp rise in the cost of Land Rover Defender thefts. Stolen vehicles and dismantled parts were responsible for a loss of £2.6m, an increase in value of 87 per cent on the previous year, with the number of thefts growing by 34 per cent. The report says these numbers will increase further as this year progresses and the farm staple, the classic Land Rover, is always going to be a target for thieves.

An NFU Mutual survey shows 73 per cent of dog owners (up from 64 per cent in 2021) now allow their pets to roam off-lead in the countryside – despite 49 per cent admitting their dog doesn’t always come back when called.

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The total cost of thefts of more specialist agricultural vehicles remained at the same level last year at £9.1m, as organised criminal gangs targeted farmyards for high-value tractors, GPS systems and trailers.

NFU Mutual is also warning that trailer theft is now becoming a major problem.

Claims totalling £1.75m were received by NFU Mutual in 2021 – up almost five per cent on 2020.

Livestock theft cost UK farmers an estimated £2.4m in 2021 and rustling remains one of the costliest thefts to farming. The lifting of Covid restrictions means there is every possibility that it will rise again especially as food prices have soared making food sales on the black market more lucrative.

This is due to them being left in fields and farmyards for long periods with little security.

They are also difficult to trace but easy to sell on without documentation, making them a favourite target of rural thieves.

Animals

The report also goes into detail about livestock and crime concerning animals.

Livestock theft cost UK farmers an estimated £2.4m in 2021 and rustling remains one of the costliest thefts to farming. The lifting of Covid restrictions means there is every possibility that it will rise again especially as food prices have soared making food sales on the black market more lucrative.

Another trend that emerged out of lockdown was the ‘pandemic-generation’ of new pets and a lack of awareness among owners in and around the countryside as they flocked to green areas for recreation.

Animals worth an estimated £1.5m were injured and killed by dogs across the UK. Pregnant ewes and new-born lambs were horrifically killed and injured, while farmers’ livelihoods were also put on the line.

An NFU Mutual survey shows 73 per cent of dog owners (up from 64 per cent in 2021) now allow their pets to roam off-lead in the countryside – despite 49 per cent admitting their dog doesn’t always come back when called.

Police calls

In just the last few weeks alone, North Yorkshire Police has issued appeals to the public as they investigate crime reports involving agricultural vehicles and rural areas.

On July 27, a quad bike was stolen from a field on Fulham Lane near Selby at around 10.15pm when a man was tending to his horses in a field. Two men approached and threatened him, before making off on the quad.

Between 6pm on Wednesday July 20 and 8.30am on Saturday July 23 a maroon-coloured Ifor Williams horse trailer was stolen from an agricultural building on the B6275 (Piercebridge Road, close to the Newsham/Eppleby crossroads at Newsham, around eight miles out of Ripon.

Two quad bikes were stolen from the Great Yorkshire Showground, in Harrogate, on the second day of the show and said to have been driven off in the direction of Wetherby Road.

David Exwood, NFU Vice President, said: “Rural crime remains a huge issue for farmers up and down the country. Cases are on the rise again at a great cost to farm businesses, families and rural communities.

“The nature of rural crime is also changing. As more criminals have access to new technologies and with more business transactions happening online, we need to adapt.

“Recent successes in strengthening legislation around hare coursing and illegal encampments, which the NFU campaigned so hard for, are also vital, delivering tougher penalties and greater police powers to deter offenders.

“But we can’t stop here. Farmers, the police and policymakers must continue to work together on a national and local level to build a structure that will prevent rural crime, underpinned by solid legislation.”

Poll

In addition, an NFU Mutual poll revealed that:

Rural crime is a concern for 50 per cent of the rural community.

Some 49 per cent say fuel theft is the rural crime they are most concerned about. A total of 34 per cent of people polled know someone who has been forced to change the way they live or work as a result of rural crime.

In 2021, NFU Mutual invested £430,000 to tackle the issue working with national police units, local forces, the security industry and agricultural machinery manufacturers to assist crime prevention and detection.