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Suffolk ranked as fifth worst affected county by rural crime according to NFU Mutual figures

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Suffolk is the fifth worst affected county by rural crime, according to latest data from rural insurance company NFU Mutual.

However, NFU Mutual's annual Rural Crime Report found that overall the trend for such crimes is on the decrease with claims for Suffolk in 2021 at £1,178,428, down on the previous year which stood at £1,470,057 - a fall of 19.8%.

It has warned though that the picture could be reversed as rising prices of farming equipment and diesel could see an increase in criminals targeting farms.

Data from NFU Mutual found that Suffolk is one of the worst affected by rural crime. Picture: iStock
Data from NFU Mutual found that Suffolk is one of the worst affected by rural crime. Picture: iStock

David Blackwell, senior agent at NFU Mutual Bury St Edmunds, said: “Our latest 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."

Claim indications show a rise in the cost of rural crimes at the end of 2021 in both the South East and in England as a whole.

Overall the cost for the East of England in 2021 was £5.1m – a drop of 22.4% from £6.6m in 2020.

Initial indications from the insurer also reveal the first quarter of 2022 has seen thieves making up for time lost over the pandemic, with the cost of rural theft in the UK over 40% higher than the same period last year. The surge follows a UK-wide drop of 9.3% to £40.5m in 2021.

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

Land Rover Defender owners were also targeted as the rocketing values of second-hand cars and replacement parts saw thieves stealing the 4x4 vehicles and stripping them down, with the cost of claims rising by 87% to £2.6m nationally.

The theft of quad bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) dropped by 11% to £2.2m in 2021, with almost half taking place from September to December. Shipping delays and the effects of the pandemic and Brexit has contributed to low supply and increase in demand which has meant that thieves turned their sights back to these easily portable, hot-ticket items to capitalise on growing waiting lists and soaring market values.

Rustling - the stealing of cattle - has also become lucrative for criminal gangs. The NFU's latest analysis shows farm animals worth an estimated £2.4m were stolen in 2021.

The soaring food prices could mean an increase in livestock thefts which raises concerns about food security, animal welfare and people's health due to stolen animals being slaughtered in unhygienic conditions.

NFU Mutual warns that a rise in diesel prices and farming equipment are among the reasons for a potential increase in rural crimes. Picture: iStock
NFU Mutual warns that a rise in diesel prices and farming equipment are among the reasons for a potential increase in rural crimes. Picture: iStock

Mr Blackwell added: "With prices of essential farm equipment such as tractors and quads rising fast and the cost of diesel soaring over the past year, there’s little doubt that criminals will be trying to steal from farms. We also know that essentials of rural living like heating oil tanks will only become more attractive to thieves as costs rise. A recent poll by NFU Mutual reveals that 89% of respondents believe inflation will lead to an increase in rural crime.

"Crime in the countryside causes high levels of anxiety and disruption, with many farmers and rural homeowners feeling vulnerable due to their isolated location. The knowledge that determined thieves are scouring the countryside looking for targets, and returning to carry out night-time raids, leads to sleepless nights for many in remote areas.

"NFU Mutual is responding by helping those living and working in rural areas to put in place effective security measures and by continuing to provide major support to enable dedicated police resources to tackle crime.”

The number of fuel theft claims received by NFU Mutual fell in 2020 to 2021, but with high diesel prices and heating oil, the insurance company's claims data from the first half of this year indicate the frequency and cost of fuel theft claims have more than doubled compared to the same period last year.

In a new poll of the rural community by NFU Mutual, almost half of respondents (49%) said that fuel theft was now their greatest crime concern.

Last year, NFU Mutual invested £430,000 in rural crime initiatives. This includes support for an agricultural vehicle theft unit at the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) which recovered stolen vehicles and farm machinery worth £2.6m last year. The unit delivers intelligence, training, and works directly with police forces across the country to combat rural crime, in addition to joint international operations to seize stolen machinery from overseas.

Following increased investment with NaVCIS and one-off grants to help police tackle GPS theft, NFU Mutual saw the cost of this crime fall by almost half to £1.5m in 2021. Without GPS – an essential part of modern farming – harvests can be delayed, and some farmers left unable to work.