Leading rural insurer NFU Mutual has revealed rural theft cost Hampshire an estimated £1.4 million last year, rising by a quarter from the previous year.

The figure follows the national trend as 2022 rural crime costs across the UK shot up 22 per cent to an estimated £49.5m.

Across the English regions, the Midlands (30.1 per cent to £11m) and the East (28.5 per cent to £6.6m) saw the highest increases in cost, followed by the South East (24.1 per cent to £9.3m) and North East (23.7 per cent to £8.3m). The South West (16.6 per cent to £5m) and North West (11.8 per cent to £3.2m) saw the lowest rises.

The rise comes against a background of soaring values and low supply of farm machinery worldwide. Criminal gangs have responded by establishing illicit global markets for farm machinery and technology equipment.

As a result, the UK cost of agricultural vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual soared by 29 per cent to £11.7m in 2022.

A survey of NFU Mutual Agents who are based in rural communities across the UK found 70 per cent knew farmers who had been repeat victims of rural crime. And 86 per cent said thieves are cashing in on the limited supply of vehicles and rising prices.

The UK cost of GPS theft increased by 15 per cent to £1.8m in 2022. However, the problem has sharply escalated in the first four months of 2023, with the cost of GPS theft doubling to over £500,000 compared to the same period last year.

The sophisticated equipment, typically costing over £10,000, is used to guide tractors and combine harvesters. Without it, farmers face severe delays and disruption to harvesting and cultivating work, with long waits for replacement kit.

Quad bikes and all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) were also top targets for rural thieves. In 2022, quad and ATV theft reported to NFU Mutual cost £3m nationally, a 34 per cent rise on the previous year. These vital vehicles enable farmers to complete work efficiently out in the fields. Continuing supply chain issues are sending prices of second-hand machines higher, making the vehicles an attractive target for thieves.

The UK cost of livestock theft rose 8.7 per cent in 2022, totalling an estimated £2.7m. Claims reported to NFU Mutual regularly involve over 50 sheep being taken in a single raid, which has a devastating impact on breeding lines as well as causing huge worry for farmers about the welfare of the stolen animals.

Patrick Govier, Agent at NFU Mutual Alton, 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.

“Loss of vital machinery and GPS equipment causes huge disruption to farmers who are already stretched to the limit and replacing kit in the current economic situation can take months, adding additional stress.

“But, growing up in rural Exmoor I know first-hand the impact of rural crime goes well beyond the practical business of farming.

“Those targeted by criminals may often second guess themselves in the aftermath of an incident as well as live in fear of repeat attacks on what is not only their workplace, but also their family home.

“That’s why we are working with farmers to help protect their livelihoods, sharing our advice and expertise as the main insurer of the UK’s farmers and offering support.”

To help farmers and rural communities protect their livelihoods from the threat posed by organised crime, NFU Mutual provided over £400,000 in support for rural crime fighting initiatives last year.

A dedicated agricultural vehicle theft unit, funded and set up by NFU Mutual in 2010, is now part of the new National Rural Crime Unit. This will strengthen work so that specialist police resources can be targeted where they are needed most to protect farmers and the wider rural community.

NFU Mutual is also supporting a new intergenerational project to train young farmers in crime prevention so they can advise other farmers and the wider rural community on practical ways to make farms secure against the threats of today’s determined criminals.

For more information on rural crime trends and advice on how to beat rural crime in your area download the report at www.nfumutual.co.uk/farming/rural-crime/