Cost of rural crime to farm businesses falls

Dartmoor hill farmer Neil Cole

Dartmoor hill farmer Neil Cole - Credit: Rekord Media

As it publishes its 2022 Rural Crime Report, rural insurer NFU Mutual reveals that rural crime cost Devon and Cornwall an estimated £460,000 in 2021, a fall of 37 per cent from the previous year.

However, claims indications show a rise in the cost of rural crime towards the end of 2021 in both the South West and in England as a whole.  Initial indications from the insurer also reveal the first quarter of 2022 has seen thieves making up for time lost over the pandemic, with UK costs over 40 per cent higher than the same period last year. The surge follows a UK-wide drop of 9.3 per cent to £40.5m in 2021.

Last year, well-organised criminals continued to plague farmyards stealing high-value farm machinery as the UK cost of agricultural vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual remained at over £9m.

Rustling has also become more lucrative for criminal gangs, and latest analysis shows farm animals worth an estimated £2.4m were stolen in 2021. Soaring food prices could mean that livestock theft now increases, raising concerns about food security, animal welfare and people's health due to stolen animals being slaughtered in unhygienic conditions.

In response to regular thefts of sheep in remote areas, such as Dartmoor, NFU Mutual joined forces with Devon & Cornwall Police who have launched a new initiative to enable farmers to protect their livestock from rustling and for locals and countryside visitors to report suspicious activity to local farmers.

The Devon Livestock Initiative was launched as a pilot project in 2021 and trialled by five hill farmers who have all been affected by livestock theft. They were given gate signs which include the times that stock are normally moved and that ask the public who see sheep being moved outside of these times, to call the farmer or the police. Other measures that have been employed are the use of gate sensors and installation of security cameras.

The initiative is set to be expanded to include more farmers in the area as police explore new ways to keep livestock safe such as using UV markers and microchips hidden in the fleece of sheep.

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PC Martin Beck of the Devon & Cornwall Police Rural Affairs Team, said: “The response to the Devon Livestock Initiative has been fantastic and really highlights the importance of raising awareness of these issues and encouraging our communities to help farmers fight rural crime. There are many advances in the technology available to farmers to help them to keep their livestock safe from thieves and we will be exploring and trialling these options through our partnership with NFU Mutual. There are hopes in the future it will also be possible to use GPS trackers to trace animals that have been stolen. We also want to focus on how we can best aid the recovery of those animals that are taken.”

Phoebe Ridley, South West Sales Development Manager for NFU Mutual, said: “Our latest UK claims figures warn that rural theft is quickly gathering momentum as criminals make up for time lost over the past two pandemic years. We’re advising rural people to review their security, to help prevent crime and disruption.

“Fortunately, efforts by Devon & Cornwall Police Rural Affairs Team, working with the farming community, has resulted in crimes being reported, criminals apprehended and stolen property recovered. We’re also seeing positive signs that rustling reduced last year thanks to joint working on the livestock theft initiative.”

The Rural Crime Report reveals the number of UK fuel theft claims received by NFU Mutual fell from 2020 to 2021, but with record high prices for diesel and heating oil, NFU Mutual claims data from the first half of this year indicates the frequency and cost of fuel theft claims have more than doubled compared to the same period in 2021.