The cost of rural crime rose to £800,000 in Cumbria during 2019 as criminal gangs targeted farm machinery and livestock, according to figures released this week by rural insurer NFU Mutual.
The county figure was up by 10.1 per cent from the previous year, mirroring the national situation. Rural crime across the UK was at its highest level for eight years, with the total cost being £54.3 million — up by almost nine per cent.
Nationally, the rural crime rate rise is being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high value tractors, quad bikes and livestock.
The biggest increase of 44.1 per cent was seen in Scotland, although its rural crime cost remains below the UK average.
The lowest regional increase was in North East England, up by 0.4 per cent, while the North West as a whole saw a 3.5 per cent rise.
There was an increase of nearly 25 per cent to £9.3 million in the value of agricultural vehicles stolen in the UK. Within that, quad bike and ATV theft rose by 21 per cent to £3.1 million.
Demand from overseas for expensive farm machinery is fuelling the rise. In one joint operation between NFU Mutual and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, five vehicles worth a total of more than £100,000 were recovered from Poland.
Livestock theft also increased in 2019, with the UK cost going up by nine per cent to £3 million. Well organised gangs taking large numbers of sheep, which are thought to enter the food chain illegally, are driving the increase.
Farmers continued to be affected by rustling during the pandemic, with initial figures suggesting an increase of nearly 15 per cent year on year in April.
A Cumbrian farming couple whose community has been plagued by repeated ATV and trials bike thefts, tool shed break-ins and house burglaries over the last two years are Matthew Waller and his partner Joanne Richardson, who farm sheep and beef cattle on the edge of the Lake District.
Matthew says he and his neighbours have been victims of a spate of more than 30 quad thefts. Two years ago, Matthew’s own quad bike — a Honda worth about £2,500 — was stolen from his farm, along with his industrial pressure washer and tools.
A few weeks after the theft, Matthew spotted his quad advertised for sale near Wigan.
He was very disappointed that, despite having all the details of the seller, police said they were unable to take action to recover his quad. Matthew beefed up security, fitting CCTV cameras and high security locks to farm buildings and the workshop.
“When we had the quad stolen it affected us as a family as it was an invasion of our privacy and we feel like the farmyard is an extension of our family home,” he said.
“But when the thieves came back again and took over £1,000 of tools from the workshop, we had pictures of them leisurely going up the yard and blatantly trying all the doors on CCTV. That really upset me and my partner.”
Matthew works closely with local Farmwatch groups to get information on suspicious activity and rural crime trends.
This information sharing prevented them being robbed a third time as they were able to identify a vehicle that had been involved in a crime spree in Lancashire that morning and North Yorkshire the week before and send it on its way when it arrived at their property.
Matthew added: “We live right in the corner of Cumbria here, and it seems to be a backwater for policing.
“Some of the officers I have spoken to have been very enthusiastic and keen to help, but they seem to get moved on to new roles before they have had a chance to get to grips with the problems we are facing,”