However, at a cost of £1.7 million over the year, high value tractors, quad bikes and tools remained the most prized targets of criminal gangs operating in the countryside.
2020 also saw a spike in other crimes such as fly-tipping during the pandemic, with the amount and frequency of rubbish dumping in fields, gateways and country lanes reaching 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.
The increase in pet ownership, together with the number of visits to the countryside, also saw attacks on farm animals increase over the period, with the rise continuing over the first half of 2021.
“Coronavirus restrictions, dedicated rural policing and beefed-up security on farms provided a welcome fall in rural thefts last year,” said Mark McBrearty, NFU Mutual regional manager in Scotland.
But he said that while lockdown had locked some criminals out of the countryside – rural crime hadn’t gone away.
“Thieves are now returning armed with new tactics and targets. As the economic impact of the pandemic bites, we are concerned rural theft may escalate significantly.”
He added that it made a real difference when his organisation worked together with police, rural communities, NFU Scotland and other rural groups to tackle rural crime.
“That’s why we’re working closely with the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) to provide additional funding, share information and help protect property through marking,” he said.
He said supporting such measures was vital because rural crime wasn’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,” said McBrearty, who revealed that the Mutual was investing over £64,000 in the fight against rural crime in Scotland through SPARC.
Inspector Alan Dron, National Rural Crime Coordinator at Police Scotland, said that early Covid restrictions had definitely contributed to some of the decline in rural crime.
“However, as restrictions eased and society was encouraged to stay local, get out into the rural communities and environments, the contribution of those living, working and enjoying these areas has also played a huge part as more incidents and suspicious behaviour was reported to policing, Rural Watch or Crimestoppers.”
NFU Scotland vice-president, Robin Traquair said that while any criminal activity was a blight, the rural community was fighting back and becoming more resilient.
“Regional SPARC initiatives are in place across much of Scotland providing farmers and crofters with information and tips on how to combat crime at a farm level, keeping property, goods and livestock safe.”