THE cost of rural crime is on the rise in Cumbria as organised gangs target farms, according to figures released this week by a leading insurer.

According to NFU Mutual rural theft cost the county an estimated £815,000, a rise of 12 percent from the previous year.

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

Organised crime gangs are stealing farm machinery and GPS kits worth tens of thousands of pounds to sell on in the UK and abroad, says the insurer.

NFU Mutual said some thieves use drones to scope out where valuable equipment is kept, or check social media to see what kit farmers are using and when they might be away.

Rising prices and a low supply of farm machinery are thought to be behind an increase in vehicle thefts, with the cost rising 20 per cent to £11.7m last year.

GPS theft rose by 15 per cent, or £1.8m, in 2022, and continued to increase in the first four months of 2023 when the cost of positioning systems doubled compared to the same period the previous year. Thefts of quad bikes and ATVs also went up, by 34 per cent to £3m, as did livestock theft, which went up 8.7 per cent or £2.7m.

Amanda Wallbank, Senior Agent at NFU Mutual Appleby, 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.”

Working with farmers and police locally the insurer sees first-hand the impact of rural crime. Farmers live in fear of repeat attacks, not only in the workplace, but also the family home.