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Cost of rural theft falls as pandemic keeps thieves away – but crime continues to plague the countryside

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The cost of rural theft fell 20% in 2020 as COVID restrictions kept criminals out of the countryside, according to figures released today by leading rural insurer, NFU Mutual.

  • The overall cost of rural theft fell 20% in 2020 as COVID-19 kept thieves out of the countryside
  • Rural thieves returning with new tactics and targets
  • Agricultural vehicle theft persists with only a 2% drop in cost as thieves get more ‘bang for their buck’
  • Dog attacks on farm animals surge as pet ownership and countryside visits increase

In its Rural Crime Report, published today (Tuesday 3 August), NFU Mutual reveals that rural theft cost the UK an estimated £43.3m in 2020, a fall of 20.3% on the previous year, making it the lowest annual cost recorded in five years.

However, highly-organised criminals continued to plague farmyards over the pandemic, stealing high-value farming Global Positioning Systems, quad bikes and ATVs as the cost of agricultural vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual remained at over £9m.

Other rural crimes, including dog attacks on livestock and fly-tipping rose sharply.  The value of sheep and cattle attacked by dogs shot up by 10.2% in 2020 to £1.3m in a year which saw a surge in pet ownership and countryside visits. The situation continues to worsen as NFU Mutual claims data shows the cost of attacks rose 50% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year.

Thieves got more ‘bang for their buck’ as they turned their focus onto smaller, high-value targets over the pandemic including farming Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Gangs dubbed ‘Rural Wraiths’ are now using silent electric scooters to steal farmers’ £10,000 GPS equipment and make off along country lanes at high speed. Without GPS – an essential part of modern farming – harvests can be delayed, and some farmers left unable to work. NFU Mutual saw the cost of claims for GPS almost double last year to £2.9m, as demand across the globe fuelled the crime wave.

Livestock theft fell sharply in 2020 – down 25% to a cost of £2.3m as emptier roads made it harder for thieves to make off with vehicles full of stolen animals but in contrast to the rest of the UK, the cost in the South West of England rose by over a third.

Fly-tipping in fields, gateways and country lanes reached epidemic proportions as waste recycling centres restricted access, leaving farmers to deal with the clean-up and risks to their health and that of their livestock and the environment.

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The biggest percentage fall in the cost of rural theft was in Wales (-39% to £1.6m) followed by Northern Ireland (-37% to £2.1m) and Scotland (-25% to £1.7m); in England, which records much higher levels of rural theft, costs also fell significantly (-18% to £37.9m).

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Across England, the largest regional fall was in the Midlands (-25% to £7.9m) followed by the South West (-24% to £5.1m); and the East (-21% to £6.4m). In the South East, the cost was down 19% to £7.1m with the North East also seeing its rural theft bill drop 10% to £7.8m. Only one region, the North West, recorded a cost rise (+3% to £3.7m).

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Coronavirus restrictions, beefed-up security on farms and more effective police rural crime teams provided a welcome fall in rural thefts last year.

“While lockdown may have locked some criminals out of the countryside – rural crime hasn’t gone away. Thieves are now returning armed with new tactics and targets.  As the economic impact of the pandemic bites, we are very concerned that rural theft may escalate significantly.

“Last year saw sharp rises in other crimes such as dog attacks on livestock which caused appalling suffering to farm animals and huge anxiety for farmers and their families as they dealt with the aftermath.

“Organised criminal gangs also continued to target farmyards for high-value GPS systems, quad bikes and tractors with the cost of agricultural vehicle theft remaining at over £9million – only a 2% drop in cost from 2019.

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“There’s no doubt that when we work together with police, farmers, communities and other rural organisations to tackle rural crime it can make a real difference. That’s why we’re investing over £430,000 in carefully targeted rural security schemes this year. The extra funding will help police join forces with local farmers, set up covert operations and recover more stolen machinery from countries across Europe.

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“We believe this is vital support because rural crime isn’t just about money to replace stolen tractors. It causes disruption, seriously affects farmers’ mental well-being and destroys the trust which enables rural communities to flourish.

“We are also urging the public, many of whom are using the countryside more, to support our farmers and rural communities by reporting suspicious sightings to the police. Our farmers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic keeping the nation fed and caring for the countryside. By working together, we can help stem the tide when the criminals become more active again.”

Over the past two years, NFU Mutual has invested over £850,000 in the fight against rural crime including a police UK-wide agricultural vehicle crime tracking and recovery unit. The National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) co-ordinates farm machinery theft intelligence between NFU Mutual, police forces, Border Force and Interpol. In Scotland, NFU Mutual is a member and funder of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime.

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DC Chris Piggott, Agriculture and Plant Field Intelligence Officer at NaVCIS, said: “Rural thieves are becoming more and more sophisticated to get round high levels of security on modern farm machinery.

“The pattern we are increasingly seeing is of gangs who patiently watch farms from a distance to discover where expensive tractor GPS kit is stored. They generally return at night to steal, and are now using silent electric scooters to get into farmyards undetected and make off at high speed.

“Thieves are also becoming even slicker stealing quad bikes – watching for hours to rush into farm yards and steal them when they are left unattended for a few minutes.”

He explained that by working together to improve security, manufacturers, insurers and police had made it much harder for thieves to steal and sell on tractors and other large equipment.

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“Unfortunately, thieves don’t give up, they change tactics and find new targets – and this extra funding from NFU Mutual means we can mount covert operations and use tracking technology to both deter thefts and catch criminals.”

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Farming

Tractor queues could lead to penalty points

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A warning for farmers this Easter Bank holiday weekend as police will be on the look-out for long queues disrupting the holiday traffic.

Leading farm vehicle insurance firmQuotezone.co.uk, which compares insurance quotes for farmers, says police forces will be especially aware of the Highway Code’s Rule 169 this weekend, as record crowds could be headed for their country road trip.

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Rule 169 says road users must not create or hold up a long queue of traffic; the rule pays special attention to those driving a large or slow-moving vehicle – potentially making tractor drivers high on the list to gain police attention.

Greg Wilson, Founder of Quotezone.co.uk, says holding up more than six cars could risk 3-9 points on a driving licence, and a fine of up to £5,000.

He comments: “Traffic jams could be more numerous and longer as holidaymakers avoid foreign trips due to the chaos and cancellation at airports and ports – with the addition of mass rail engineering works ruling out alternative transport closer to home.”

If tractor drivers find they are creating queues, the Highway Code and police forces advise that they pull over, where safe, and allow traffic to overtake, as frustration can lead to dangerous manoeuvres to try and bypass farm vehicles.

The police will also be looking at motorists with caravans, trailers and horse boxes who will need to be conscious of how their driving is affecting other road users. Sensible measures such as checking mirrors, and showing reasonable consideration for other road users should avoid prosecutions.

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Greg Wilson continues: “Farmers are incredibly busy and it’s not always possible to pull over but it’s really important to be as safe as possible on the roads and also safeguard finances. 

“Penalty points could see insurance premiums increase by as much as 25% for 6 points – given tractor insurance can be rather expensive, it isn’t worth the financial risk or potentially losing a driving licence if the new penalties push total points to more than 12.”  

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UK Government

Farming union hits out over Welsh and UK Government’s lack of engagement on Ukraine supply chain crisis

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The Farmers’ Union of Wales has, for a second time, written to the Welsh Government urging them to instigate actions within their control to alleviate some of the pressures of the Ukraine war on Welsh farmers and consumers.

In response to the initial letter sent to the Welsh Government on 4th March 2022, in which the Union requested a roundtable meeting with them and other stakeholders to discuss such issues and possible actions, the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd stated that the Welsh Government did not believe such a meeting was appropriate.

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FUW President, Glyn Roberts
(Image: FUW)

In his letter of reply, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “We are acutely concerned at the failure of both the Welsh and UK Governments to engage with the supply chain early on in order to explore immediate actions that will help mitigate problems that are having an impact now, and will continue to do so for the remainder of the year and at least into 2023.

“Such impacts are affecting and will continue to affect not only farmers, but also consumers, and this is therefore an issue not only for the food and farming industry but also for the Welsh and UK population as a whole.”

Mr Roberts also highlighted the need for the UK Agriculture Market Monitoring Group on which the Welsh Government sits to take a more proactive approach and share information in a more timely manner, stating:

“It is worth noting that the last set of minutes published on the UK Government website relates to a meeting held on 8th February 2022, many weeks before Russia’s attack on Ukraine.”

“I know you will be aware of the impacts being reported across the supply chain, whether in terms of cooking oil, fuel, feed or fertiliser, and predicted shortages, for example of eggs, and we fully appreciate that with regard to many of these there is little if anything that the Welsh Government can do,” wrote Mr Roberts.

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“However, there certainly are actions that can be instigated by the Welsh Government to alleviate some pressures for Welsh farmers which will benefit consumers over the coming months and years, and while these may be limited we believe it is incumbent upon the Welsh Government to act now in order to do what it can to assist farmers, food producers and consumers,” he added.

(Lead image: FUW)

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Search for Pembrokeshire’s top progressive farmers for new award

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Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society are looking for the county’s top progressive farmers for a new award to be presented at the Pembrokeshire County Show.

If you farm in Pembrokeshire, are under the age of 45, and can demonstrate your farm’s use of the latest technological methods to promote progressive, sustainable agriculture then the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society encourage you to enter the prestigious Baron de Rutzen Award.

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The de Rutzen family have had a considerable influence in Pembrokeshire through their agricultural estates and diverse businesses interests over many years. Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society gratefully acknowledges the generosity of J H Llewellin & family, of Kilbarth, Rudbaxton, Haverfordwest, for kindly re-presenting the Baron de Rutzen Trophy to the Society this year.

Baron John Fredrick De Rutzen was President of Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society in 1936 and the Baron de Rutzen Trophy was produced in his memory. The third Baron served in the Welsh Guards and tragically died, aged 36, in 1944.

Stephen James, the outgoing Pembrokeshire County Show President launched the 2022 Baron De Rutzen Award in the recent AGM of the Agricultural Society.

He said, “We are grateful to the Llewellin family for donating us this hugely significant trophy and we want to present it this year to a local farmer who can demonstrate their farm’s use of the latest technological methods to promote progressive, sustainable agriculture.

“They also need to show consideration for the environment and habitat sensitivity on their farm as well as present an aesthetically pleasing example of farming in Pembrokeshire.”

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The entrant must be a fully practising farmer within the county of Pembrokeshire and was under the age of 45 years on 1 January 2022.

Entries can either be by nomination or direct application online on the Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society website.

The closing date for nominations and applications is at noon on Sunday, 15 May 2022.

Pembrokeshire County Show, the largest agricultural show in Wales, is going ahead this year, over two days, and everyone is invited to attend the event which is a celebration of rural life in the county.

The last full-scale show was held in 2019 followed by a virtual event in 2020 and a scaled down version in 2021 for animals and members only.

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This year’s Show President, Mansel Raymond, admits that the past couple of years have been a struggle for the Society.

He said, “We have been looking forward, with hope, to 2022 when we could bring back the show you all know and love.

“Agricultural shows in Pembrokeshire have existed for over 200 years and they provide an opportunity for farmers and local businesses to exhibit livestock, goods and services.

“They are also important however for well-being, it is the place where we meet friends and family and discuss challenges with various experts that normally attend.”

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