Rural insurer NFU Mutual has warned that Britain’s countryside is in the grip of a rural crime wave, as latest figures reveal a sharp rise in the cost of rural thefts.

Initial estimates from the insurer show theft cost the UK’s rural homes, businesses and farms a staggering £44.5m in 2017, the highest level in four years.

Analysis of the insurer's claim statistics, the insurer of almost three quarters of the UK’s farms and thousands of rural businesses and homes, reveals 2017 saw an increase of 13.4% - the highest year on year percentage rise since 2010.

Every year, NFU Mutual publishes a detailed report on rural crime trends in August which provides detailed analysis including county statistics and information on changing patterns of theft. This year, widespread concern in rural communities has led the company to issue an early warning to farmers and country dwellers to increase security.

Tim Price, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist said: “From the south east of England to the north of Scotland we’re seeing brazen criminals stealing cars, 4 x 4s, tractors, quad bikes and tools. We’re especially concerned that criminals are becoming more sophisticated and are overcoming electronic security to steal expensive vehicles of all types.

“With police facing huge challenges – including budget cuts and extra workload – forces are finding it hard to resource rural policing and this may be one of the reasons for the rise in thefts we are seeing.

“There is still a perception among criminals that there are easy targets in the countryside – and farmers and homeowners can do a lot to deter thieves by taking simple security measures. Fitting gates to prevent easy access to farm yards and drives is one of the most effective measures. High-tech security such as movement detectors, infra-red cameras and ‘geo-fencing’, which triggers an alarm if a farm vehicle moves off the premises, can also play their part.

“Social media is fast becoming the new eyes and ears of the countryside and keeping in close touch with neighbours and police through local farmwatch schemes can play a significant role in identifying suspicious activity and bringing thieves to justice.”

The steepest rises regionally in the cost of theft claims were in Wales, the Midlands and south east England. Only one region, the north east of England, recorded a significant fall in the cost of theft claims.