In its 2020 Rural Crime Report, published today (Tuesday August 4), NFU Mutual reveals that rural crime cost Devon and Cornwall £550,000 last year.

Devon and Cornwall saw a fall of one per cent from 2018, compared to a national increase of nearly nine per cent.

While there have been some reductions in crime under lockdown, there are concerns that rural theft is set to escalate as the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic bites.

Roz Hill, regional manager at NFU Mutual in Devon and Cornwall, said: “Rural crime is like a wave as organised criminality spreads through our farms and villages, affecting everyone in the countryside.

"We continue to work hard to stem the tide and are warning rural communities and helping with prevention advice, as there are concerns for the months ahead as the economic impact of coronavirus bites.

“As well as the financial cost, there’s a serious effect on the mental well-being of people living in rural and often isolated areas.

"There are fears that the impact will be felt harder this year, as farmers have been working flat-out to feed the nation and many rural communities have been put under additional pressure by the challenges brought by Covid-19.”

Falmouth Packet:

Quad bike and ATV theft rose by 21 per cent (stock image)

“Our provisional theft claims data for the first half of 2020 indicates that, while rural theft fell overall during the early part of pandemic lockdown, we’ve seen a number of trends including a spike in livestock rustling in April.

“There’s no doubt that organised criminal gangs are targeting our countryside again and these figures would be much higher if it weren’t for specialist rural crime teams in police forces, and improved farm security measures such as trackers for tractors and quads. However, it’s not good enough for one successful security measure or initiative to displace organised criminality to another area.”

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In 2019 rural crime rose in every region and nation within the UK, with an average increase of 8.8 per cent. The south west saw a higher than average increase, up 14 per cent.

For the second year running, the sharp rises are being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles – accounting for a UK increase of nearly 25 per cent to £9.3m on agricultural vehicles. Within that total, quad bike and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) theft rose by 21 per cent to £3.1m. In addition, Land Rover Defender thefts reported to NFU Mutual rose by 34 per cent to £2.1m.

Livestock theft also increased in 2019, with the cost going up nine per cent to £3m. Well-organised gangs taking large numbers of sheep, which are thought to enter the food chain illegally, are driving the increase. A spate of sheep being slaughtered and butchered in farmers’ fields also contributed to the rise, and farmers continued to be affected by rustling during the pandemic – with initial figures suggesting an increase of nearly 15 per cent year on year in 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 Mutual’s rural theft figures are used by police forces to help them understand rural crime on their patch and plan rural police responses. It also provides support and expert advice to many local farm and rural watch schemes across the UK.