Britain’s countryside in grip of crime wave: NFU

Tim Price, NFU
Tim Price, NFU

Leading rural insurer NFU Mutual has warned that Britain’s countryside is in the grip of a rural crime wave, as latest figures reveal a sharp rise in the cost of rural thefts.

Initial estimates from the insurer show theft cost the UK’s rural homes, businesses and farms a staggering £44.5m in 2017, the highest level in four years.

Analysis of NFU Mutual’s claim statistics, the insurer of almost three quarters of the UK’s farms and thousands of rural businesses and homes, reveals 2017 saw an increase of 13.4% - the highest year on year percentage rise since 2010.

Every year, NFU Mutual publishes a detailed report on rural crime trends in August which provides detailed analysis including county statistics and information on changing patterns of theft. This year, widespread concern in rural communities has led NFU Mutual to issue an early warning to farmers and country dwellers to increase security.

“NFU Mutual’s close links to farmers and country people through our 300 local branch offices have revealed widespread concern that more criminals are targeting the countryside and they are going for richer pickings,” said Tim Price, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist.

“From the South East of England to the North of Scotland we’re seeing brazen criminals stealing cars, 4x4s, tractors, quad bikes and tools. We’re especially concerned that criminals are becoming more sophisticated and are overcoming electronic security to steal expensive vehicles of all types.

“With police facing huge challenges – including budget cuts and extra workload – forces are finding it hard to resource rural policing and this may be one of the reasons for the rise in thefts we are seeing.

“There is still a perception among criminals that there are easy targets in the countryside – and farmers and homeowners can do a lot to deter thieves by taking simple security measures. Fitting gates to prevent easy access to farm yards and drives is one of the most effective measures. High-tech security such as movement detectors, infra-red cameras and ‘geo-fencing’, which triggers an alarm if a farm vehicle moves off the premises, can also play their part.

“Social media is fast becoming the new eyes and ears of the countryside and keeping in close touch with neighbours and police through local farmwatch schemes can play a significant role in identifying suspicious activity and bringing thieves to justice.”

The steepest rises regionally in the cost of theft claims were in Wales, the Midlands and South East England. Only one region, the north East of England recorded a significant fall in the cost of theft claims.

As the main insurer of the countryside, NFU Mutual has responded to its members’ concerns about rural crime by supporting local and national rural security initiatives.

NFU Mutual is part of a rural policing strategic review organised by the Police Chiefs’ Council, and has invested over £1m in schemes set up to tackle agricultural vehicle theft and rural crime. For six years it has funded a specialist agricultural vehicle police officer through the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) for the good of the farming industry coordinating farm machinery theft information between police forces, Border Force and Interpol. NFU Mutual are also one of the key stakeholders with the Plant & Agricultural National Intelligence Unit (PANIU).

In Scotland NFU Mutual provides financial support for the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC). It also provides support and expert advice to many local farm and rural watch schemes.