Rural crime across Cheshire increased by a staggering 24% in 2016 at a cost of £740,000, compared to £600,000 in 2015.
Tools, all terrain vehicles and quad bikes top thieves’ wish lists and police response time is still a concern for communities living in more remote locations.
The figures form part of NFU Mutual’s annual Rural Crime Report, published last week, revealing that despite the UK seeing a 4% drop last year, the cost of rural theft has risen sharply in the first half of 2017.
According to the report, early theft claims statistics for the first half of this year show a sharp rise of more than 20% nationally, raising concerns that a new wave of rural crime is hitting the countryside.
Peter Offer, NFU Mutual agent in Cheshire, said: “Rural crime in Cheshire has risen dramatically during the last 12 months, as countryside criminals are becoming more brazen and farmers are now having to continually increase security and adopt new ways of protecting their equipment.
“Farmers are being forced to consider the increased risk of theft of tractors, quad bikes and tools, and ways in which farm security can be improved. They are using tracking devices on tractors, video and infra-red surveillance in their farm yards and even DNA markers to protect sheep from rustlers.”
The report also reveals that being ‘staked out’– watched and targeted – by criminals is the ‘biggest’ concern for residents.
Mr Offer said: “The threat of becoming a victim of rural crime, and regular reports of suspicious characters watching farms, is causing increased concern amongst farmers who know their rural location makes them vulnerable to attacks.”
Nationally, ongoing livestock theft is raising concerns that stock is being stolen for slaughter and processing outside regulated abattoirs, before illegally entering the food chain. Thieves are also cloning the identities of large, expensive tractors to make them easier to sell and harder to detect once stolen.
Chief Inspector Sarah Heath, rural crime lead for Cheshire Constabulary, acknowledges the increased cost of crime in countryside areas but believes the new figures are impacted by a number of factors.
She said: “Rural crime is a priority for Cheshire Police and an issue that we take extremely seriously. While it’s disappointing to see that the figures relating to the cost of rural crime have increased in Cheshire, we believe that part of the reason behind the increase is that more people are now coming forward to report incidents.
“Here in Cheshire we have specially trained rural and wildlife officers who deal with incidents in our rural communities and manage a number of initiatives across the force.
“These initiatives include Horse Watch, Operation Caesar, Operation Shield and Rural Watch – all of which are designed to raise awareness of rural crime, make our communities safer and encourage crime reporting.”
In April this year it was revealed that Cheshire police officers have joined forces with their colleagues from Staffordshire and Derbyshire Police in a bid to prevent and detect rural issues which can often see a rise during the winter months. Crimes such as poaching, theft of plants, tools and vehicles such as quad bikes and Land Rover Defenders were discussed, as well as how to reduce badger baiting and environmental damage offences.
Chief Inspector Heath says Cheshire Police will continue to tackle growing trends by maintaining sound working relationships with those affected:
She added: “By running such initiatives we can help build strong relationships with those living and working in rural areas. This enables us to identify and tackle any issues and crime trends affecting them, which often have a major impact not only on people themselves, but in some cases their livelihoods.”
The items most commonly targeted by thieves across Cheshire over the last 12 months were tools, all terrain vehicles and quad bikes, and machinery. Nationally, criminals continue to target Land Rover Defenders, which has become a bigger target since production of the model ended in 2015. The cost of the theft of the iconic farm vehicle has increased from £1.8m in 2015 to £2.1m in 2016.
Mr Offer added: “Our advice to people living and working in the countryside is to regularly evaluate your current security measures making improvements where necessary, remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the local police and local farm watch schemes.”
To read the full report visit www.nfumutual.co.uk/ruralcrime