Rural thefts of modern farming machinery such as GPS systems and quad bikes has risen significantly, an insurer has said.
Gangs dubbed “rural wraiths” have become “more sophisticated,” using e-scooters and other techniques to steal high-value machinery.
Insurance claims for such machinery, including GPS systems, ATVs, quad bikes and tractors remained high despite the total number of claims falling by 20 percent to around £43.3 million in the UK during lockdown last year.
Such claims only dropped by 2 percent since 2019, sitting at more than £9 million while claims for GPS systems nearly doubled to £2.9 million.
Meanwhile, livestock theft generally fell by a quarter to a cost of £2.3 million, although in the south west claims for livestock theft rose by a third.
Despite a fall in claims, though, rural crime hasn’t disappeared. The top three counties most affected by rural crime by the total value of insurance claims were Lincolnshire (£2.48m), Cambridgeshire (£2.02m) and Essex (£1.65m).
“Rural thieves are becoming more and more sophisticated to get round high levels of security on modern farm machinery,” said DC Chris Piggott, from the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, a police unit funded by businesses.
He added: “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.”
Such claims rose by 10 percent in 2020 and shot up again by 50 percent at the start of 2021, during the third national lockdown.
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 £9 million - only a 2 percent drop in cost from 2019.”
The company is investing £430,000 in rural security schemes this year.