Police Scotland and rural insurer NFU Mutual warn that the combination of dark winter nights and fewer people out and about after dark could lead to an increase in rural theft this winter.
The warning comes after it was revealed that the cost of rural crime has risen to its highest level for eight years, with organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.
NFU Mutual reported that rural crime in the UK totalled £54m in 2019, and the cost of rural theft has peaked in the October to December quarter for the past two years.
Detective Constable Allan McKean, from Police Scotland’s National Rural Crime Team, said: “Police Scotland and Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) are committed to targeting criminals who use the darker nights to commit crime in Scotland's rural communities.
“We agree with NFU Mutual’s suggested actions to increase security and would add that it’s important not to ignore suspicious activity and to report any vehicles involved to the Police. Information is key.
“We also engage with the rural community through initiatives such as Rural Watch Scotland to help make it a safer place to work, live and visit, while making it a more hostile environment for criminals to operate.”
NFU Mutual said that while some types of rural crime fell during the initial Covid-19, lockdown, rural theft is now increasing in many parts of the UK as the economic impact of the pandemic bites.
The latest crime trend to hit UK farms is the theft of expensive tractor GPS systems, with incidents being carried out in night-time raids.
Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “The longer hours of darkness can present greater opportunities for criminal activity, particularly in remote rural areas which may not benefit from as much lighting, passing traffic or general footfall in the evenings as urban settings.
“With our specialists at NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd, we have prepared a winter security checklist and podcast to help farmers and other rural dwellers ensure their property is well protected to avoid becoming a victim of theft.
“While some types of rural crime fell during the early part of lockdown we’ve seen alarming rises in smaller, more portable items of kit being stolen such as tractor GPS systems, with tens of thousands of pounds worth of equipment being taken in a single night.
“The latest breed of criminal is using a range of tactics, often staking out farms by day to return late at night and smash into tractor cabs under the cover of darkness.
“The damage and disruption to agricultural activities is causing huge anxiety in the farming community and we are working with police and manufacturers to make it harder for criminals to steal from our farms and villages."
NFU Mutual has provided £430,000 support for schemes set up to tackle rural theft this year.