AN annual rural crime report shows that the cost of rural crime in 2019 reached its highest level in eight years, with every region being affected.

The NFU Mutual's report shows that the cost of rural crime reached £54m, an increase of almost nine per cent on the previous year, with organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

For the second year running, the theft of agricultural vehicles drove the sharp rises shown in the report, accounting for an increase of nearly 25 per cent, to £9.3m.

Livestock theft also increased in 2019 with the cost going up nine per cent to £3m, and farmers continued to be affected by rustling during the coronavirus pandemic – with initial figures suggesting an increase of nearly 15 per cent to April 2020.

Theft of tractor global positioning systems (GPS) is a major concern as farms move to using precision technology to run field operations. Typically costing £8,000 to £10,000, GPS equipment has become a highly-prized item on the shopping lists of rural thieves, particularly during the Covid-19 lockdown where smaller, high-value items appear to have been targeted to meet demand overseas.

NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts said: “Rural crime has devastating impacts for farm businesses and those living in rural communities. These figures confirm what we have been hearing from our members; that this problem is getting much worse across the country.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the current police strategy to combat rural crime is not working. Police leaders and the Government need to take rural crime more seriously and recognise that the organised criminals carrying out these crimes view rural businesses as an easy target."

“We must also remember that these farms are not just workplaces but homes for farming families. As well as the financial burden rural crime causes, we need to recognise the severe impact it has on the mental health of farmers, their families, and rural communities who frequently suffer intimidation and threats of violence from the organised criminals behind these acts.

“We want to see increased funding from the Home Office for rural policing and a more co-ordinated approach between police forces to tackle the serious issue of rural crime and reverse this current trend.”

While the coronavirus lockdown has led to a general reduction in crime across the country, there are concerns that this will reverse as economic hardships begin to be felt. And it is feared that farmers’ concerns about potential crime has added to anxiety and social isolation.