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 since 2013.
Analysis of NFU Mutual’s claim statistics reveals 2017 saw an increase of 13.4% – the highest year on year percentage rise since 2010.
The steepest rises were in south-east England, Wales and the Midlands.
The figures are significant because NFU Mutual insures almost three quarters of the UK’s farms and thousands of rural businesses and homes.
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 rural affairs specialist Tim Price said there was widespread concern that more criminals are targeting the countryside and they are going for richer pickings.
“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.
Mr Price said there was a perception among criminals that there are easy targets in the countryside – and rural residents could do a lot to deter thieves by taking simple security measures.
Fitting gates to prevent easy access to yards and drives was 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, could 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.”
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), coordinating machinery theft information between police forces, Border Force and Interpol.
NFU Mutual is also one of the key stakeholders with the Plant & Agricultural National Intelligence Unit (PANIU).
In Scotland, it 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.
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