West country farmers are being warned to to ramp up security as international criminal gangs are targetting the region’s agricultural vehicles and machinery.

The warning comes ahead of Agrifest South West on 7 November in Exeter where NFU Mutual is teaming up with Devon and Cornwall Police and ATVTrac to help farmers protect their property.

Rural crime cost the south west £5.9m in 2017, a rise of 5.3 per cent from the previous year.

Devon has been particularly hard hit, with rural theft costing the county £532,585, up 46.8 per cent from 2016.

The items most commonly targeted by thieves in the south west were quad bikes and ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), tools and garden equipment, as well as livestock.

Chris Roberts of NFU Mutual, said: “Through NFU Mutual’s work to combat agri-vehicle crime, we know that tractors, telehandlers and quads are currently in high demand from organised crime networks which are using stolen goods as a form of currency following tougher money laundering legislation.

“Farm vehicle theft is big business for the organised gangs which are stealing expensive vehicles and farm equipment and either cloning it for sale here, or shipping it across the world.

"A new breed of brazen and determined thieves is using a combination of brute force and technological knowhow to target the countryside.”

Devon and Cornwall Police are to introduce two new dedicated Rural Affairs Constables.

Inspector Paul Morgan of Police HQ at Middlemoor said: “Our two new Rural Affairs Constables will build on the work of our Special Constabulary Rural Engagement Team to tackle a range of issues affecting people who live, work in or visit Devon and Cornwall including farm machinery, plant and vehicle theft, livestock theft, and fuel theft.

The Devon and Cornwall Police Rural Affairs Team are promoting five key prevention messages:

  • Join and engage with Farm Watch and Neighbourhood Watch
  • Keep vehicles locked and the keys with you or secured
  • Consider tracking devices or data tracking chips
  • Register valuable plant through the National Plant & Equipment Register
  • All property should be recorded and photographed as part of an "Asset Register”

NFU Mutual works closely with the National Vehicle Intelligence Service (NaVCIS), the Plant & Agricultural National Intelligence Unit (PANIU) and the police, helping to trace stolen tractors from the UK as far afield as Africa and the Far East.