Farming News - Counting the cost of rural crime

Counting the cost of rural crime

NFU Mutual’s 2022 Rural Crime Report shows that thieves making up for lost time since covid with costs more than 40% higher than the same period last year. The cost of rural theft was an estimated £40.5m across the UK last year with thieves targeting fuel, livestock and kit.

Despite last year’s overall decrease, signs that rural criminals are on the return had already started to show towards the end of 2021. Well-organised criminals continued to plague farmyards stealing high-value farm machinery as the cost of agricultural vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual remained at over £9m last year.

The rural crime report shows that:

  • Rural theft cost the UK an estimated £40.5m in 2021
  • The cost of rural crime rose over 40% in the first quarter of 2022 as thieves returned to the countryside - following falls in 2020 and 2021
  • Rural crime is a concern to 50% of the rural community
  • 49% of respondents said fuel theft is the rural crime they are most concerned about
  • Theft of Land Rover Defenders cost £2.6M - a rise of 87% on the previous year

Commenting on the figures NFU Vice President David Exwood said: “It is clear from the NFU Mutual’s report that farms are once again being heavily targeted by criminals after a short lull during the pandemic. With machinery and fuel theft on the rise, we urge the next Policing Minister to see the proposed Equipment Theft (Prevention) Bill through to fruition.

“Rural crime has huge financial implications for farm businesses and it also leaves farming families feeling vulnerable, intimidated, and in some cases directly threatened. This all comes at a time when the industry is already facing numerous other pressures, not least soaring production costs and challenging weather conditions.

“Taking a joined-up approach and establishing a cross-governmental task force – including Defra, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the National Police Chiefs Council & the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners – will be crucial if we are to prevent further impacts from crime on farm businesses, both financially and emotionally.”

Report Findings

Land Rover Defender owners battled a barrage of crime as the rocketing value of second-hand cars and replacement parts saw thieves stealing the iconic British 4x4 vehicles and stripping them down, with the cost of claims shooting up by 87% to £2.6m.

And although NFU Mutual saw the cost of stolen quad-bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) fall 11% to £2.2m in 2021, almost half of those thefts took place from September to December. As shipping delays and the effects of Covid and Brexit contributed to low supply and a rise in demand, thieves turned their sights back to these easily portable, hot-ticket items to capitalise on growing waiting lists and soaring market values.

Rustling has also become more lucrative for criminal gangs, and latest analysis shows farm animals worth an estimated £2.4m were stolen in 2021. Soaring food prices could mean that livestock theft now increases, raising concerns about food security, animal welfare and people's health due to stolen animals being slaughtered in unhygienic conditions.

The number of fuel theft claims received by NFU Mutual fell from 2020 to 2021, but with record high prices for diesel and heating oil, NFU Mutual claims data from the first half of this year indicates the frequency and cost of fuel theft claims have more than doubled compared to the same period in 2021. In a new poll of the rural community by NFU Mutual, almost half of respondents (49%) said that fuel theft was now their greatest crime concern.

The latest crime wave has prompted the insurer to issue urgent advice and a series of videos to help farmers take action to protect their property

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Our latest claims figures warn that rural theft is quickly gathering momentum as criminals make up for time lost over the past two pandemic years. We’re advising rural people to review their security, to help prevent crime and disruption.

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“With prices of essential farm equipment such as tractors and quads rising fast and the cost of diesel soaring over the past year, there’s little doubt that criminals will be trying to steal from farms. We also know that essentials of rural living like heating oil tanks will only become more attractive to thieves as costs rise. A recent poll by NFU Mutual reveals that 89% of respondents believe inflation will lead to an increase in rural crime.

“Crime in the countryside causes high levels of anxiety and disruption, with many farmers and rural homeowners feeling vulnerable due to their isolated location. The knowledge that determined thieves are scouring the countryside looking for targets and returning to carry out night-time raids can lead to sleepless nights for people in remote areas.”

The NaVCIS effect 

The National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) recovered stolen vehicles and farm machinery worth £2.6m last year. The unit delivers intelligence, training, and works directly with police forces across the country to combat rural crime, in addition to joint international operations to seize stolen machinery from overseas.

Following increased investment with NaVCIS and one-off grants to help police tackle GPS theft, NFU Mutual saw the cost of this crime fall by almost half to £1.5m in 2021. Without GPS – an essential part of modern farming – harvests can be delayed, and some farmers left unable to work.

New advice

New advice on protecting rural property to avoid becoming a victim of rural crime is being made available to country people in NFU Mutual’s 2022 Rural Crime report and the insurer’s latest advice videos.

Rebecca added: “As each farm or home is different, every property needs a different approach to keeping thieves out - and there’s an armoury of measures to help do so, from traditional fortification, to technology using movement sensors, to community information networks.”

NFU Mutual has a dedicated in-house team that works closely with specialist national police units, police forces, the security industry and agricultural machinery manufacturers to share information to assist in crime prevention, recover stolen property and provide security advice.

Picture: Rebecca Davidson courtesy NFU Mutual