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Rural crime rises to £54 million as criminal gangs target farm machinery and livestock

The cost of rural crime is at its highest level for eight years, with organised criminal gangs targeting high value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

  • Cost of rural crime at eight year high – up almost 9% in just 12 months
  • Coronavirus effect sees livestock rustling incidents
  • Concern rural crime expected to escalate as economic impact of crisis hits
  • Farmers’ fears over crime contribute to rising anxiety and rural isolation

The cost of rural crime is at its highest level for eight years, with organised criminal gangs targeting high value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

In its 2020 Rural Crime Report, published today (Tuesday 4th August), rural insurer NFU Mutual reveals that rural crime cost the UK £54m in 2019, an increase of almost 9% on the previous year.

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.

In 2019 rural crime rose in every region and nation within the UK. The biggest percentage increase was seen in Scotland (44%), although its rural crime cost remains below the UK average. The second-highest regional rise was 18% in Northern Ireland followed by the East of England (16.9%).  The lowest regional increase was in North East England, up 0.4%.

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 an increase of nearly 25% to £9.3m on agricultural vehicles. Within that total, quad bike and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) theft rose by 21% to £3.1m. In addition, Land Rover Defender thefts reported to NFU Mutual rose by 34% to £2.1m. Demand from overseas for expensive farm kit is 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 also increased in 2019 with the cost going up 9% 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% 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.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Rural crime is like a wave as organised criminality spreads through our villages, farms and fells, 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 £54m 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.”

A survey of NFU Mutual Agents last year found that a quarter knew someone who had been forced to change the way they lived or farmed as a result of crime and the biggest fear in rural communities was repeat attacks.

Speaking about crime under Coronavirus, Rebecca said: “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.”

This year NFU Mutual invested £430,000 to tackle rural crime, including a police UK-wide agricultural vehicle crime tracking and recovery unit. The National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) co-ordinates farm machinery theft intelligence between NFU Mutual, police forces, Border Force and Interpol. The insurer has also provided funding for the welfare and shelter of stolen farm animals as police investigate and track down their owners.

To help farmers and rural businesses protect themselves for the new wave of organised crime, NFU Mutual has also joined forces with Security Exchange to fund a free-of-charge security service for its existing Directors and Officers insurance policyholders with AIG PrivateEdge. The service includes a telephone advice service, which can include on-the-ground support, from experienced security consultants, advice on cost-effective and innovative security measures; and rapid response in the event of a security incident.

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. 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 across the UK.

For more information on rural crime trends and advice on how to beat rural crime in your area download the report at www.nfumutual.co.uk/ruralcrime.

To hear NFU Mutual’s Rural Crime podcast, click here (live from August 4th).

Join in the conversation using #ruralcrime Twitter – @nfum, Facebook – NFU Mutual.

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 absence of registration plates
  • The cost of Quad and ATV theft claims to NFU Mutual rose to £3.1m in 2019 – a rise of 21%
  • Smaller, more portable equipment such as quads and ATVs continued to be a target for thieves under Coronavirus
  • Bespoke physical security devices, such as Quad Vice, can deter opportunist thieves
  • CESAR marking and tracking devices are the most effective security measures, once basic measures of removing keys and keeping vehicles out of sight in a building with the machine secured have been addressed

Land Rover Defenders

  • Land Rover Defenders remain highly desirable to thieves with landies insured by NFU Mutual stolen in 2019 at a claims cost of £2.1m.
  • However, while at least four Defender thefts a week were being reported in January 2020, numbers fell from March to June
  • Trackers, alarms and storing vehicles out of sight help deter thieves from stealing these British icons


  • The cost of agricultural vehicle theft claims to NFU Mutual rose by nearly 25% to £9.3m in 2019
  • Thieves are increasingly cloning the identity of tractors to make detection more difficult
  • Thieves are stealing expensive tractors costing 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 kit and in one operation with Navcis earlier in 2020 four tractors and a farm loader worth £108,000 were traced to Poland and brought back to the UK. 


  • The cost of livestock theft reported to NFU Mutual increased by 9% to £3m in 2019
  • Although rustling dropped at the start of the year, initial figures suggest nearly a 15% increase in cost year on year in April as thieves targeted farms under lockdown
  • 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 £100,000

Cost to UK 2019 Cost to UK 2018 %age difference


Up or down
East £8.1m £6.9m 16.9%
Midlands £10.6m £9.9m 7.8%
North East £8.6m £8.6m 0.4%
North West £3.5m £3.4m 3.5%
Northern Ireland £3.3m £2.8m 18.0%
Scotland £2.3m £1.6m 44.1%
South East £8.7m £8.6m 0.6%
South West £6.6m £5.8m 14.0%
Wales £2.6m £2.3m 11.1%

Worst affected counties by cost: 

  County Cost to UK 2019 Cost to UK 2018 %age difference Up or down
1 Lincolnshire £2.8m £2.6m 11.1% ↑1
2 Essex £2.7m £2.3m 19.3% ↑1
3 North Yorkshire £2.2m £1.8m 22.6% ↑1
4 Cambridgeshire £2.0m £1.7m 17.8% ↑1
5 Kent £1.8m £2.7m -31.3% ↓4
6 Lancashire £1.8m £1.6m 9.8% ↑1
7 Warwickshire £1.7m £1.6m 8.5% ↑1
8 Leicestershire £1.7m £1.4m 18.8% ↑2
9 Gloucestershire £1.6m £1.7m -7.6% ↓3
10 Suffolk £1.4m £1.1m 29.2% ↑7

Estimates and percentages based on NFU Mutual claims data, costs rounded to nearest £100,000.


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