Cost of rural crime down but farmers digging ditches to keep ‘organised criminals’ out

The cost of rural crime in Devon has fallen 17.8 per cent – bucking the national trend. But the fear of crime is shattering lives with farmers feeling ‘under siege’, according to a leading insurer.

In its 2019 Rural Crime Report, insurer NFU Mutual reveals rural crime cost the county £437,000 last year.

Nationally, crime in rural areas has risen by 12 per cent – costing the UK a total of £50m. Statistics show that tools and quad bikes are top of thieves’ wish list.

Lucy Thomas, NFU Mutual Senior Agent, said: “At a time when rural crime is increasing across the UK, the fall in Devon is hugely encouraging. It’s a testament to the hard work of farmers, country people and rural police to tackle crime in the country side. However, there is no room for complacency. The countryside is facing a major challenge from organised criminals and it’s vital that police, farmers and rural businesses remain vigilant.

“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.”

The impact of rural crime on Devon’s farming community

Lucy gives a shocking insight into rural crime. She revealed: “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.”

Lucy 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.”

NFU Mutual invests £1.5m to tackle rural menace

As the main insurer of the countryside, NFU Mutual says it 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), co-ordinating 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.

For more information and advice on how to beat rural crime in your area download the report at www.nfumutual.co.uk/ruralcrime To hear NFU Mutual’s Rural Crime podcast, click here.

About Author