RURAL crime is on the rise in Cumbria, costing the county £800,000 in 2019, according to a report.

In its annual study of offences against farmers and rural businesses, the insurer NFU Mutual found rural crime in 2019 in Cumbria was up 10.1 percent on the previous year. The figure for the North West was £3.5m last year, up by 3.5 percent from 2018.The insurer said the rise is being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

Across the UK, rural crime cost £54m in 2019, an increase of almost nine percent on the previous year.While there have been some reductions in crime under lockdown, the insurer says there are concerns that rural theft is set to escalate as the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic bites.

For the second year running, the sharp rises are being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles, accounting for an increase of nearly 25 percent to £9.3m on agricultural vehicles in the UK, says the report.

Quad bike and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) theft rose by 21 percent to £3.1m. In addition, Land Rover Defender thefts reported to NFU Mutual rose by 34 percent to £2.1m. Demand from overseas for expensive farm kit is fuelling the rise and in one joint operation between NFU Mutual and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, five vehicles totalling more than £100,000 were recovered from Poland earlier this year.

Livestock theft also increased in 2019 with the UK cost going up nine percent to £3m. Well-organised gangs taking large numbers of sheep, which are thought to enter the food chain illegally, are driving the increase. A spate of sheep being slaughtered and butchered in farmers’ fields also contributed to the rise, and farmers continued to be affected by rustling during the pandemic,with initial figures suggesting an increase of nearly 15 percent year on year in April 2020.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Rural crime is like a wave as organised criminality spreads through our villages, farms and rural towns, affecting everyone in the countryside. We continue to work hard to stem the tide and are warning rural communities and helping with prevention advice, as there are concerns for the months ahead as the economic impact of Coronavirus bites.

"As well as the financial cost, there are fears that the impact will be felt harder this year as farmers have been working flat-out to feed the nation and many rural communities have been put under additional pressure by the challenges brought by Covid-19."