Cost of rural crime falls in Hertfordshire and Essex
The cost of rural theft in Hertfordshire fell 24% to an estimated £778,000 in 2020 as Covid-19 restrictions helped keep criminals out of the countryside.
According to figures released on Tuesday (August 3) by rural insurer NFU Mutual, the cost in Essex fell 39.7% from £2.74m in 2019 to £1.65m last year.
In its Rural Crime Report, crime costs in the South East in 2020 dropped 19% to an estimated £7.1m. For the whole of the UK, the 2020 rural theft bill totalled an estimated £43.3m, a fall of 20.3% on 2019 and the lowest annual cost in five years.
However, highly organised criminals continued to plague farmyards over the pandemic, stealing agricultural vehicles, equipment and tools.
Thieves got more 'bang for their buck' as they turned their focus onto smaller, high-value targets, including farming Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Without GPS – an essential part of modern farming – harvests can be delayed and some farmers left unable to work. NFU Mutual saw the UK-wide cost of claims for GPS almost double last year to £2.9m, as demand across the globe fuelled the crime wave.
Other rural crimes, including dog attacks on livestock and fly-tipping, rose sharply across the UK. The value of sheep and cattle attacked by dogs rose by 10% in 2020 to £1.3m in a year which saw a surge in pet ownership and countryside visits. The situation continues to worsen as NFU Mutual says data shows the cost of attacks rose 50% in the first quarter of 2021 compared with the same period last year.
Fly-tipping in fields, gateways and country lanes reached epidemic proportions as waste recycling centres restricted access, leaving farmers to deal with the clean-up and risks to their health and that of their livestock and the environment.
Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: "Coronavirus restrictions, beefed-up security on farms and rural policing provided a welcome fall in rural thefts last year.
"While lockdown may have locked some criminals out of the countryside, rural crime hasn't gone away. Thieves are now returning armed with new tactics and targets. As the economic impact of the pandemic bites, we are very concerned that rural theft may escalate significantly.
"With more and more people using the countryside, we're urging the public to support farmers and rural communities by reporting suspicious sightings and crimes to police."