Farmers are counting the cost of a surge in crime in the countryside, ranging from theft of livestock to theft of tractors, ATVs, GPS equipment and Land Rovers.
There was a spike in sheep theft during the lockdown as gangs took advantage of deserted communities, empty roads and concerns over food shortages during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Across the UK, the cost of rural crime in the UK rose almost 9% to £ 54million in 2019 from the previous year – a high in eight years, new figures show by NFU Mutual. The insurer said crime in the countryside could worsen further as the economic impact of Covid-19 occurs, putting more pressure on farmers and rural communities.
Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “The lockdown resulted in an initial reduction in thefts overall. But criminals continued to target the campaign and there were spikes in crimes such as cattle rustling. As the economic impact of the pandemic begins to bite, we fear that criminal activity is escalating. “
In its latest report, NFU Mutual said rural crime has increased in all regions and countries in the UK. The largest percentage increase has been in Scotland (44%), although its rural crime cost remains below the UK average. The second highest regional increase was 18% in Northern Ireland, followed by eastern England (17%).
For the second year in a row, the sharp increases are believed to be attributable to organized criminal gangs targeting tractors, quads and other valuable farm vehicles. Overseas demand for expensive farm kits is fueling the rise. Highly collectable Land Rover Defenders theft increased by 34%.
Cattle theft increased in 2019 with a cost of up to £ 3million. Well-organized gangs are clearly behind many thefts, where animals are often butchered in the fields and sold illegally. Early figures suggest an increase of nearly 15% year-over-year in April 2020.
Another major concern is the theft of tractor global positioning systems. Usually costing up to £ 10,000, GPS equipment has become a popular item on rural thieves’ shopping lists.
Glenn Buckingham, who farms in Suffolk, had GPS equipment worth £ 9,800 stolen from his combine last month. He said: “We were all ready to start harvesting and we went into the barn to find that the combine’s GPS system had been ripped off. We had to wait two weeks to get a replacement system. “
James Kimber, a breeder from Wiltshire who lost 15 ewes and 24 lambs last year, said: ‘They had to come with a trailer and load them. I’ve been told that the animals may have ended up in what is apparently a fairly prosperous black market for stolen meat.
Richard Willcox, who farms near Highbridge, Somerset, had a quad stolen in May – almost exactly one year to the day since it was caught in 2019.
“I suspect it’s the same gang that came back this year,” he said. “The quad is such a vital part of the kit that they must have known I would replace it. It’s troubling to think that people might stake out the farm and try to find what we have here, especially since it’s not just a place to work, but also my home.