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Cost of rural crime in Hertfordshire up by almost a quarter as overseas demand for expensive farm kit fuels rise

The cost of rural crime in Hertfordshire has soared 24.5% to top £1m as organised criminal gangs target farm machines and animals.

Incidents across the country resulted in a £54.3m cost to the UK in 2019, the highest for eight years – and there are concerns there will be further escalation as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

In its 2020 Rural Crime Report published on Tuesday (August 4), insurer NFU Mutual said that the rise is being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

NFU infographic (39794182)
NFU infographic (39794182)

In 2019, rural crime rose in every region and nation in the UK. The biggest percentage increase was in Scotland (44.1%), 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 was in the North East, up 0.4%, followed by 0.6% in the South East.

In Hertfordshire the cost of rural crime rose 24.5% from £824,855 to £1,026,599. Essex was the second worst affected county, where the cost went up 19.3% from £2,296,644 to £2,738,873.

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 in the UK. 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. In a 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 UK cost going up 9% to £3m. 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.

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-£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 rural towns, 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.

"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 national trends, including a spike in livestock rustling in April and the targeting of GPS equipment."

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