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Sharp rise in rural crime as cost-of-living crisis hits

Farmers are being urged to boost security as fuel and machinery prices rise.

After two years of declining rural thefts during the pandemic, NFU Mutual’s latest report shows the cost of rural crime soared by 40% in the first quarter of 2022 – with farm vehicles remaining a top target.

Despite an overall decrease in rural thefts last year, signs that rural criminals were returning had already begun towards the end of 2021, according to the rural insurer. Well-organised criminals continued to plague farmyards, stealing high-value farm machinery.

The total cost of rural theft was an estimated £40.5m across the UK last year, and the cost of agricultural vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual remained at over £9m.

Vehicle thefts

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 4×4 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.

Animal thefts

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.

“High levels of anxiety and disruption”

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.

“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 home owners 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.

“NFU Mutual is responding by helping those living and working in rural areas to put in place effective security measures and by continuing to provide major support to enable dedicated police resources to tackle crime.”

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.”

Following increased investment with the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (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.

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. New advice is also available in NFU Mutual’s 2022 Rural Crime report


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