Crime-related security breaches on British farms are being driven, in part, by the cost of living crisis, it has been claimed.
Farmers are losing livestock, machinery, vehicles and fuel, according to a report by the insurer NFU Mutual.
Rural crime claims pay-outs between January and March have soared by over 40% compared to 2021.
NFU Mutual has the theft of livestock could lead to the risk of contaminated, black-market meat entering the food chain.
But some observers on rural crime say that the spike in crime could also be linked to the country coming out of the pandemic.
NFU Mutual has called on the Government to launch a national taskforce to deal with rural crime.
David Exwood, the NFU’s Vice-President, said: “Taking a joined-up approach and establishing a cross-governmental task force – including Defra, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the National Police Chiefs Council and the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners – will be crucial if we are to prevent further impacts from crime on farm businesses, both financially and emotionally.”
NFU Mutual reports an increase in rustling saw an estimated £2.4m worth of farm animals stolen in 021.
If slaughtered illegally and in unhygienic conditions and sold on, food security, animal welfare and people’s health could be put at risk.
NFU Mutual said its claims data from the first half of this year indicate that fuel theft has more than doubled compared to the same period in 2021.
The survey found 49% of rural business people cited fuel theft was now their greatest crime concern.
The cost of rural crime was estimated at £40.5m across the UK last year, an overall decrease on previous years and the second annual fall during the pandemic.
Security measures, rural crime initiatives, quieter roads and community vigilance all played their part in suppressing countryside crime, the report found.
But Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual’s rural affairs specialist, said: “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 can lead to sleepless nights for people in remote areas.”
Rural landowners’ body, the CLA, warned of rural criminality becoming a problem, echoing NFU Mutual’s findings.
CLA South West Rural Surveyor Claire Wright said: “There is also a fear that livestock rustling and poaching offences could rise on the back of soaring food prices.
“Although rustling offences fell by 5.5% last year there is a real risk that rising meat prices and a squeeze on consumer spending could fuel renewed levels of this criminality.
“To avoid your livestock being stolen, you should regularly check your herds and flocks but ensure you vary your routine visits to fields.
“If it is possible, graze animals away from roadside fields and/or consider using some of the rapidly advancing technology such as gate sensors to protect them. Needless to say, your stock should be tagged and all records kept current.”
Online scams could also prove to be a problem, said the CLA.
Fisher added: “On other side of this coin, tightening margins in farming and businesses coming under financial pressure mean there can be a heightened risk of rural business owners becoming the victim of scams.
“In the recent past, this has included payment for storing bales that later turns out to contain waste, which costs the landowner to dispose of; fraudulent texts purporting to be from the RPA or fake adverts/websites offering equipment at prices that seem too good to be true.”
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