Organised criminal gangs are using drones and Google Earth to scope out farms in order to steal machinery and livestock, with rural crime costing nearly £50 million in a year.
NFU Mutual, the insurer, said that the cost of rural crime rose by 22 per cent to an estimated £49.5 million last year, up from £40.5 million the previous year.
Rising prices and a low supply of farm machinery are thought to be behind an increase in vehicle thefts, the value of which rose by 20 per cent to £11.7 million last year.
The insurer said that criminal gangs were using increasingly sophisticated methods, operating technology such as drones, to carry out raids to steal tractors, harvesters and quad bikes.
Theft of GPS equipment, which is used by farmers to guide tractors and combine harvesters, rose by 15 per cent or £1.8 million. Thefts of quad bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) also went up by 34 per cent to £3 million. Livestock theft increased by 8.7 per cent to £2.7 million.
Earlier this month the National Crime Agency said that a range of offences including agricultural crime were likely to rise amid the cost of living crisis.
Hannah Binns, a rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Highly organised gangs are causing disruption to farming and widespread concern to people who live and work in the countryside.
“Rural theft is changing. It is not only opportunist thieves travelling a few miles, we are now seeing internationally organised criminal activity. These gangs target high-value farm machinery and GPS kits because they can be sold all over the world.
“Many items are stolen to order by thieves using online technology to identify where farm machinery is stored and scope out the best way to steal it. They will also spend hours watching the movement of farming families to work out the best time to attack.”
She said that the loss of vital machinery and GPS equipment caused huge disruption to farmers who were already stretched to the limit.
Claims reported to NFU Mutual regularly involved more than 50 sheep being taken in a single raid, which had a “devastating impact on breeding lines” as well as causing huge concerns for farmers about the welfare of stolen animals.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are committed to tackling rural crime, which is why we are providing the police with the resources they need, after recruiting 20,000 additional officers. We are supporting forces through funding for crime prevention measures, such as CCTV and better technology.”
“We have legislated to require immobilisers and forensic markings to be fitted to new agricultural equipment before it is sold to customers, helping to further protect rural communities from crime.”
(Source: The Times)