Thieves who target rural areas anticipating rich pickings with relatively little resistance are finding they are coming up against more determination within communities to fight crime.
The traditional stereotype of the countryside conjures up sleepy villages which are attractive to criminals with designs on expensive farm machinery. But the reality is that more people are waking up to the fact that their property is at risk unless they take steps to protect their homes and businesses.
This growing awareness has resulted in a welcome fall in the cost of rural crime. According to NFU Mutual’s annual claims data, the cost to the UK economy in 2014 was a not-insignificant £37.8 million. However, this was down from £44.5 million, or 15 per cent, on the previous year.
Across the East the amount of insurance claims from rural thefts has dropped. Last year in Cambridgeshire the value of rural thefts was £1.7million compared with £2.4 million the year before.
Suffolk saw a fall from £1.4million to £1.1million, Norfolk dropped from £880,000 to £600,000 while one of the country’s biggest farming county’s, Lincolnshire, saw the value of rural thefts decrease from £2.2million to £1.8million. Likewise, Leicestershire saw a fall from £1.2million to £750,000.
This pattern has been replicated across the UK.
Tim Price, of NFU Mutual, said. “There are now padlocks on gates, security lighting in yards and in some cases CCTV. Farmers and their families are feeling incredibly vulnerable to rural crime — it has become a major obsession and affects the way they live.”
“This is an organised criminal enterprise. Before 2010, most cases were local and involved up to a dozen sheep - now 100 or more are being stolen at a time. People are coming equipped with a vehicle capable of carrying them and the skills to round them up.
“The suspicion is that at least some are being slaughtered outside the heavily regulated meat processing industry and then fed into the food chain.”
“The groups also appear to move from one area of the country to another depending on the level of awareness and police attention,” Mr Price added.
“There was a big rustling problem in Lancashire recently but after a concerted effort by farmers and the police it has fallen. Now it is rising in other areas, such as the east of England.”
Quad bike thefts have jumped from £1 million in 2010 to nearly double that in 2014
“Five years ago most tractor manufacturers supplied a key that would fit any model — that was convenient for farmers but also for thieves.
“Now they have same sort of security as an expensive car, including immobilisers and tracking systems. However, quad bikes are much harder to secure.”
“They are a criminal’s dream - they are worth a lot of money, they can easily fit in the back of a Transit van, and there is demand across the world,” Mr Price said.