Cost of rural crime in Scotland falls by 48% as countryside fights back

01/08/2023
Constable Lynn Black from Police Scotland's National Rural and Acquisitive Crime Unit

IN ITS 2023 Rural Crime Report, published today (Tuesday 1 August), leading rural insurer NFU Mutual reveals that rural crime cost Scotland £1.4m last year, a fall of 48% from 2021.  

The welcome decrease comes after Scotland was hard hit by thieves targeting quad bikes in 2021, with the cost of rural crime in the country rocketing 52.3% to £2.6m that year compared to £1.7m in 2020.  

Joint cross-border operations and strong recovery rates of stolen agricultural machinery, helped by increased forensic marking, have played a key part in driving down Scotland’s rural crime cost last year, showing how collaboration and new security measures can help fortify farmyards and homes.  

However, the situation in Scotland goes against the UK trend which saw the 2022 rural crime costs across the UK rise 22% to an estimated £49.5m.  

Criminal gangs have responded to soaring values and low supply of farm machinery worldwide by establishing illicit global markets for farm machinery and technology equipment. 

As a result, the UK cost of agricultural vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual soared by 29% to £11.7m in 2022.  

A survey of NFU Mutual Agents who are based in rural communities across the UK found 70% knew farmers who had been repeat victims of rural crime. And 86% said thieves are cashing in on the limited supply of vehicles and rising prices*.  

The UK cost of GPS theft increased by 15% to £1.8m in 2022. However, the problem has sharply escalated in the first four months of 2023, with the cost of GPS theft doubling to over £500,000 compared to the same period last year. 

The sophisticated equipment, typically costing over £10,000, is used to guide tractors and combine harvesters. Without it, farmers face severe delays and disruption to harvesting and cultivating work, with long waits for replacement kit.  

Quad bikes and all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) were also top targets for rural thieves. In 2022, UK quad and ATV theft reported to NFU Mutual cost £3m, a 34% rise on the previous year. These vital vehicles enable farmers to complete work efficiently out in the fields. Continuing supply chain issues are sending prices of second-hand machines higher, making the vehicles an attractive target for thieves.  

The UK cost of livestock theft rose 8.7% in 2022, totalling an estimated £2.7m. Claims reported to NFU Mutual regularly involve over 50 sheep being taken in a single raid, which has a devastating impact on breeding lines as well as causing huge worry for farmers about the welfare of the stolen animals. 

Amid the cost-of-living crisis, diesel and heating oil thefts plagued farms and rural homes leaving some families without heat at the coldest time of year. Fuel theft doubled last year as both organised and opportunist thieves targeted the liquid gold sitting in fuel tanks across the countryside.   

While Scotland saw a decrease, England, Northern Ireland and Wales saw a rise in the cost of rural crime as thieves returned to the countryside and ramped up their activity after the pandemic years.  

Martin Malone NFU Mutual Manager for Scotland, said: “Highly-organised gangs are causing disruption to farming and widespread concern to people who live and work in the countryside.  

“Rural theft is changing. It is not only opportunist thieves travelling a few miles, we are now seeing internationally organised criminal activity. These gangs target high-value farm machinery and GPS kits because they can be sold all over the world. 

“Many items are stolen ‘to order’ by thieves using online technology to identify where farm machinery is stored and scope out the best way to steal it. They will also spend hours watching the movement of farming families to work out the best time to attack. 

“Loss of vital machinery and GPS equipment causes huge disruption to farmers who are already stretched to the limit and replacing kit in the current economic situation can take months, adding additional stress.  

“Those targeted by criminals may often second guess themselves in the aftermath of an incident as well as live in fear of repeat attacks on what is not only their workplace, but also their family home.  

“That’s why we are working with farmers to help protect their livelihoods, sharing our advice and expertise as the main insurer of farmers and providing support to tackle rural crime.”  

Constable Lynn Black from Police Scotland’s National Rural and Acquisitive Crime Unit said: “It is extremely encouraging to see that the cost of rural crime within Scotland has almost halved, however, we cannot and will not become complacent in our efforts to further reduce the number of rural offences occurring throughout the country. 

“We know that the theft of agricultural and plant equipment remains a concern for farm owners and workers and in collaboration with NFU Mutual we will continue to provide all the necessary advice on how the public can safeguard their properties, vehicles and equipment. 

“In addition, we will thoroughly investigate any and all reports of rural crimes that occur to identify those responsible and bring them to justice. 

“Our website has a range of useful crime prevention information for rural communities and this can be viewed by visiting www.scotland.police.uk.” 

NFU Scotland’s Rural Business Policy Advisor Rhianna Montgomery said: “The concerted and co-ordinated efforts of farmers and crofters, rural watch groups and both national and regional Partnerships Against Rural Crime (PARCs) will have played a significant part in the falling crime figures for Scotland.   

“However, there is absolutely no room for complacency as that simply opens the door to both organised crime and opportunistic criminals.  

“The fact that vehicles, machinery, equipment, livestock and fuel continue to be targeted in other parts of the country is a stark reminder of the levels of vigilance we must continue to maintain.  We must continue to protect our farms and crofts as best we can, take advice from the experts on how best to do that, and ensure that any criminal activity continues to be reported to Police Scotland.”  

To help tackle crime in the countryside, NFU Mutual has invested over £300,000 over the past five years to support the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC).  

And earlier this year NFU Mutual provided more funding to widen out a SelectaDNA marking scheme after a successful trial in 2022 saw no new thefts reported on over 60 farms in South Lanarkshire following the deployment of the kits and warning signs.  

For more information on rural crime trends and advice on how to beat rural crime in your area download the report at NFU Mutual Rural Crime Report 2023 Low Res.pdf

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