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Call for more action to protect farms against rural crime wave

By Dominic Robertson | Crime | Published:

As a new report shows that rural crime cost the county more than £1.4 million last year, a farmer has said more needs to be done to protect rural businesses.

The report, from NFU Mutual, says the £1.4m bill for Shropshire has risen by 14.8 per cent since 2018, and that the national bill stands at £54m – a nine per cent increase on last year.

Across the country the investigation indicates a significant rise in organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles – the figure has gone up by 25 per cent, accounting for £9.3m.

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.

Demand from overseas for expensive farm kit is said to be fuelling the rise and in one joint operation between NFU Mutual and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, five vehicles totalling more than £100,000 were recovered from Poland earlier this year.

Livestock theft is another crime on the rise with 2019 figures showing costs going up by nine per cent to £3m.

Well-organised gangs taking large numbers of sheep, which are thought to enter the food chain illegally, are said to be driving the increase.

A spate of sheep being slaughtered and butchered in farmers’ fields has 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 another 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.

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Tide

Richard Yates, from Middleton Scriven, who also farms in Bridgnorth, said farmers needed to concentrate their efforts with the police to make it as difficult as possible for thieves.

He said the issue was one regularly discussed in the agricultural community.

“We are aware of it and the need to do more to prevent it, to co-ordinate, anything we can do to stop this increasing problem,” he added.

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“For example we can use Whatsapp groups, note any suspicious activity, anything we can do to address it and stamp it out.”

Mr Yates added: “I would think every farmer in my rural community has been affected by some form of rural crime, whether it be rubbish being tipped in our fields or at the gateways, or the usual quad bikes being stolen, and increasingly the theft of livestock and sheepdogs.”

The NFU Mutual figures show that in 2019, rural crime rose in every region and nation within the UK.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Rural crime is like a wave as organised criminality spreads through our villages, farms and rural towns, affecting everyone. 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.”

West Mercia Police Chief Superintendent Sue Thomas, who is the force’s lead on rural crime, said she is keen to reassure rural communities that action is being taken.

She said: “As a service we cover a huge geographic area with a vast array of road networks weaving through our beautiful countryside. We are not complacent and take a proactive approach to ensuring that criminals don’t see these rural areas as easy pickings.”

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