However, Scotland, where rural crime costs £1.6 million a year, still remains the UK region least affected by the problem. Overall, the cost of rural crime rose by 12 per cent to hit a seven year high, according to the annual study from NFU Mutual. The same report last year found that Scotland had bucked the rising trend across the UK with a 3.8 per cent fall north of the border.
The insurer said farmers and country dwellers faced “repeated thefts by gangs who take advantage of farms’ isolated locations to steal machinery, raid tool stores and even butcher sheep in the fields”.
It warned that previous crimes by “a couple of dodgy characters” had been replaced by large, organised criminal gangs targeting rural communities. It also warned that farmers are "increasingly vulnerable" to cyber attacks as they diversify into systems which require technology - but without the firepower of a large company behind them to tackle online security.
The report said that the rise was driven by the theft of tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles, which was up 26 per cent in 2018.
Richard Percy, chairman of NFU Mutual, said: “In my lifetime rural theft has changed from opportunist thieves taking a fewtools to organised criminals stealing expensive tractors and flocks of sheep to order.
Fly-tipping has changed from a van load of building rubble left in a gateway to lorry loads of hazardous wastedumped on farm land. Hare coursing too has changed from a couple of dodgy characters with a dog to nationally organised crime with huge sums changing hands through online betting.”
He added: “In this context the 12 per cent increase in the cost of crime shown in NFU Mutual’s claims statistics for 2018 is disappointing; but it is not a surprise.”
Dog attacks on farm animals cost £1.2m in 2018, the report found, while some farms reported that organised gangs, using working dogs, sometimes took hundreds of sheep in a single night-time raid.
The Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) was formed in 2015 as a bold new approach to tackling rural crime across Scotland. It recently emerged that farmers were turning to new deterrents such as special coded sheep marking paint which is used on the animal’s fleece and skin as well as tracing equipment which is swallowed and can then be used to help identify stolen sheep in a bid to combat growing crimes such as sheep rustling.
Inspector Alan Dron of SPARC said in the report: "Of the belief too many incidents, crimes and offences still go unreported, SPARC adopted a strategy focused on raising the profile, educating and changing perception of key issues causing greatest harm to rural communities. In taking this approach, SPARC predicted the potential for recorded rural crime to significantly rise but accepted a need to increase confidence and willingness for individuals affected to come forward coupled with gaining a more accurate picture on the extent rural communities are being targeted."