Rural crime 'on the rise' after pandemic lull, farm insurer warns

rural scene

Rural theft is quickly gathering momentum this year following a pandemic lull in 2021, rural insurer NFU Mutual has warned - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Rural crime is on the rise across the East of England as thieves return in force post-pandemic, a rural insurers has warned.

Suffolk was the fifth worst-hit county by cost in 2021 and Essex the second worst-hit, according to rural insurers NFU Mutual's rural crime claim statistics.

For Suffolk, that was in spite of the cost of insurance payouts dropping nearly 20% to £1,178,428 - compared to £1,470,057 the previous year. 

In Essex, crime appeared to continue almost unabated - with costs dropping 1.9% from £1,683,052 in 2020 to £1,651,877 in 2021, said the insurer.

The worst-hit county last year was Lincolnshire (£2,406,760) - despite seeing a 5.5% fall from 2020.

Most parts of the country - except for the Midlands, Scotland and the South East - saw a fall in rural crime last year, according to the NFU Mutual's report. It found the overall cost based on its claims was £40.5m in 2021 - a 9.3% fall compared to the previous year.

But this year is a different story, with rural crime showing worrying signs of a return with a 40% rise in the first quarter across the UK and signs of a rise in the East of England, it warned.

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It is advising farmers to check their security. Farm vehicles are the top target for criminals - including Land Rover Defenders, quad bikes and trailers as prices soar, it said. Prices have been boosted by shipping delays and the effects of Covid and Brexit leading to low supply and a rise in demand, it added.

Livestock rustling could also return, it suggested. Its analysis showed farm animals worth an estimated £2.4m were stolen in 2021 - and soaring food prices could present an added threat, it said. It also fears fuel such as diesel and heating oil will become a target as prices rocket.

A new rural poll by NFU Mutual revealed almost half of respondents (49%) felt fuel theft was now their greatest crime concern.

David Blackwell, senior agent at NFU Mutual Bury St Edmunds, 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.

David Blackwell, senior agent at NFU Mutual Bury St Edmunds

David Blackwell, senior agent at NFU Mutual Bury St Edmunds - Credit: David Blackwell

“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 homeowners 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, leads to sleepless nights for many 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.”

The NFU Mutual report revealed that in the East of England, the cost of rural theft fell over 22% in 2021 to £5.1m. The Midlands was worst affected by cost (£8.4m), followed by the South East (£7.5m) and the North East (£6.7m). The Midlands (+1.7%) and the South East (+1.1%) were the only English regions not to see a fall last year.

“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,” said Mr Blackwell.