Farming News - Rural crime cost reaches 7 year high as organised gangs lay siege to countryside

Rural crime cost reaches 7 year high as organised gangs lay siege to countryside

The cost of rural theft has hit a seven-year peak, with farmers deploying high-tech security devices to counter a wave of organised crime in the countryside.

In its 2019 Rural Crime Report, published today (August 5), leading rural insurer NFU Mutual looks at the impact that crime is having on rural communities throughout the UK.

NFU Mutual’s claims figures reveal that rural crime cost the UK £50m in 2018, an increase of 12% on the previous year, making it the highest cost in seven years.

The biggest percentage increase was seen in Scotland (62%), although its rural crime cost remains below the UK average. The second-highest regional rise was 25% in North East England and the third was East Anglia with a rise of 22%.  The cost of rural theft fell in two regions – Wales, down 7% and the South West, down by just 1%.

The sharp rises are being driven mainly by high value thefts of tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles – up 26% to £7.4m in 2018.

Tim Price, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “The last time rural theft reached the current level was in 2011 when international gangs took advantage of a largely unsecured countryside. Today, we are seeing another rise as organised criminal gangs with links to money laundering and drugs find ways to beat security and steal farm vehicles.

“Farmers and country people are suffering from high levels of anxiety due to repeated thefts by gangs who take advantage of  farms’ isolated locations to steal machinery, raid tool stores and even butcher sheep in the fields.

“In a single generation, country people have seen rural crime change from the opportunist theft of a single lamb, to brazen heists of tractors worth over £100,000 and rustlers stealing hundreds of sheep.

“We are even seeing agricultural vehicles being stolen to smash into village shops to rob cash machines. As well as causing huge structural damage to buildings, these raids can lead to shop owners not replacing ATMs for fear of further attacks.”

One of the most alarming findings from this year’s report is that fear of crime is changing life in the countryside. From constant reports of thefts and suspicious vehicles touring the countryside to rural criminals regularly staking out farms, country people feel they are under siege.  

Tim Price said: “Our survey of 300 local NFU Mutual Agents who work closely with rural communities has revealed that repeat attacks are causing widespread anxiety and exacerbating the problems of rural isolation amongst farmers who often work alone all day. Some farmers are so concerned about the risk of criminal attack they can no longer leave the farm with their family to attend local events.”

“We are tackling this issue through the ‘Mind Your Head' campaign launched by the Farm Safety Foundation to raise awareness and understanding of mental health in agriculture.”

Farmers are turning to new technology to protect their fields and farmyards using a range of innovative measures. These include devices such as infra-red beams which send alerts to mobile phones being used to protect farm yards; geo-fencing, which triggers an alarm if tractors go beyond farm boundaries, and livestock marking which puts thousands of micro-dots into fleeces. Police too are using technology to catch rural criminals including operating drones for investigations and using social media networks to share intelligence with rural communities.

Tim added: “Combining modern technology with physical fortifications, farmers are trying to keep one step ahead of the thieves. Together with digging ditches and putting up earth banks to prevent criminals getting on to farm land, these electronic devices are proving to be effective weapons in the fight against rural crime. This is increasingly important because today’s determined thieves come armed with battery-powered angle grinders which can cut through chains and padlocks in seconds to access farm buildings and tool sheds.”

“While the rise in the cost of rural theft is a huge disappointment, we are convinced it would be much higher without the investment in rural security by thousands of farmers and higher commitment from many police forces to fighting rural crime,” said Tim Price, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual.

Since 2010 NFU Mutual has invested £1.5m in security initiatives including a specialist police resource through the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) coordinating farm machinery theft intelligence between NFU Mutual, police forces, Border Force and Interpol. While tractor theft rose 26% to £7.4m last year, it is still below its peak of £10million in 2010.

“The good news is that security technology is developing fast and we’re already clearly seeing that thieves avoid tractors fitted with good security kit and sheep that have been marked with microdots. Innovative use of social media to report criminal activity is also working well in some areas - and reducing isolation. There’s no doubt that when police, farmers and other rural organisations tackle rural crime in an organised way they get results,” said Tim.

NFU Mutual’s figures are used by police forces to help them understand rural crime on their patch and plan rural police responses. In Scotland, NFU Mutual provides financial support for the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC).  It also provides support and expert advice to many local farm and rural watch schemes.

For more information and advice on how to beat rural crime in your area download the report at  To hear NFU Mutual’s Rural Crime podcast, click here (live from August 5th).

Rural Crime Trends

Quads and ATVS

Quads and ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) are disappearing from farms in large numbers – thanks to being easy to transport and lack of registration plates

The cost of Quad and ATV theft claims to NFU Mutual rose from £2.3m in 2017 to £2.6m in 2018 – a rise of 10%

Bespoke physical security devices, such as Quad Vice, can deter all but the most determined thieves

CESAR marking and tracking devices are the most effective security measures, once basic measures of keeping vehicles out of sight in a building with the machine secured have been addressed


The cost of agricultural vehicle theft claims to NFU Mutual rose by 26% from £5.9m in 2017 to £7.4m in 2018

Thieves are increasingly cloning the identity of tractors to make detection more difficult

Thieves are stealing expensive tractorscosting over £50,000 for export to developed counties and small, older tractors to export to third world countries

NFU Mutual goes to extreme lengths to trace and recover stolen tractors which have been exported to send a strong message to thieves


The cost of livestock theft reported to NFU Mutual increased by 3.7% from £2.4m in 2017 to £2.5m in 2018

Technology - including DNA testing, fleece marking with micro-dots, electronic chips and boluses - now offers robust evidence to help bring rustlers to justice

Thefts of large numbers of lambs are raising concerns that stock is being stolen for slaughter and processing outside regulated abattoirs before illegally entering the food chain

Regional Rural Theft cost


Rounded to nearest £100,00

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Worst affected counties by cost:



Cost to UK 2017

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Estimates based on NFU Mutual claims statistics, costs rounded to nearest £100,000