The cost of rural crime in Staffordshire last year was more than £1,361,000, a rise of 48.5% from 2017.
In Cheshire, rural crime cost the county more than £650,000 last year down from £930,000 in 2017.
In its 2019 Rural Crime Report, published today (August 5), leading rural insurer NFU Mutual looks at the impact that crime is having on rural communities up and down the UK.
Overall, its claims figures reveal that rural crime cost the UK £50m in 2018, an increase of 12% on the previous year and the highest overall cost in seven years. The sharp rises are being driven mainly by high value thefts of tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles – up 26% to £7.4m in 2018.
The items most commonly targeted by thieves in the Midlands and North West over the last 12 months were tools, ATVs/quads and machinery.
Simon Bates, NFU Mutual Senior Agent in Stafford said: “One of the most alarming findings from this year’s report is that fear of crime is changing life in the countryside. From constant reports of thefts and suspicious vehicles touring the countryside and rural criminals regularly staking out farms, country people feel they are under siege.
“The report further reveals that limited police resources and repeat attacks are the biggest fears for people in rural communities, with many forced to change the way they live and work as a result of rural crime.
“Repeat attacks are causing widespread anxiety and exacerbating the problems of rural isolation amongst farmers who often work alone all day. Some farmers are so concerned about the risk of criminal attack they can no longer leave the farm with their family to attend local agricultural shows.
“Farmers are combining modern technology with physical fortifications to try and keep one step ahead of the thieves. Together with digging ditches and putting up earth banks to prevent criminals getting on to farm land, we’re seeing electronic devices like infra-red beams which send alerts to mobile phones and geo-fencing, which triggers an alarm if tractors go beyond farm boundaries. These technologies are proving to be effective weapons in the fight against rural crime. This is increasingly important because today’s determined thieves come armed with battery-powered angle grinders which can cut through chains and padlocks in seconds to access farm buildings and tool sheds.”
Simon adds, “The threat of becoming a victim of rural crime, and regular reports of suspicious characters watching farms is causing high levels of anxiety amongst farmers who know their rural location makes them vulnerable to attacks.
“Our advice to people living and working in the countryside is to regularly evaluate your current security measures making improvements where necessary, remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the local police and local farm watch schemes.
“The good news is that security technology is developing fast and we’re already clearly seeing that thieves avoid tractors fitted with good security kit and sheep that have been marked with microdots. Innovative use of social media to report criminal activity is also working well in some areas - and reducing isolation. There’s no doubt that when police, farmers and other rural organisations tackle rural crime in an organised way they get results.”
As the main insurer of the countryside, NFU Mutual has responded to its members’ concerns and has invested more than £1.5m to tackle the menace of rural crime.
NFU Mutual funds a specialist agricultural vehicle police officer through the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) coordinating farm machinery theft intelligence between NFU Mutual, police forces, Border Force and Interpol.
NFU Mutual’s figures are used by police forces to help them understand rural crime on their patch and plan rural police responses. It also provides support and expert advice to many local farm and rural watch schemes.
In May, Staffordshire police stepped up the fight against thieves who target remote farm buildings and equipment.
Officers have been using decoy equipment to catch would-be-criminals in hotspot areas.
Chief Inspector Mark Thorley, the neighbourhood commander for the area, said: "The Moorlands is a safe and pleasant place to be, but we want to reassure the local communities this is the work we do to try and protect them and in the event of them being subjected to a crime the lengths we go to in order to bring offenders to justice.
"In decoy operations, vehicles and equipment most often targeted for theft are parked in certain areas and fitted with devices that may allow us to film or track the thieves.
"We use this tactic frequently and continue to have results which continues to bring offenders to justice and deter others from thinking the Moorlands rural communities are not protected and there for an easy target. As they are not."