Rural insurer NFU Mutual, along with Devon & Cornwall and Dorset police forces, are urging country people to increase security following a spate of thefts hitting farms in the south west.

Increasing reports of rural crime, including the theft of quad bikes, tools and expensive GPS systems from farms, have prompted an early warning to farmers to ramp up security and for rural communities to report suspicious sightings to the police.

In the past few weeks, police have reported 16 recorded crimes in East and Mid Devon and 11 in Dorset.

The scale of ATV theft is revealed by NFU Mutual’s claims statistics. The insurer, which covers over three quarters of the UK’s farmers, estimates that quad and ATV theft cost £2.6m in 2018 – a 13 per cent increase on 2017.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Quad bikes and other types of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) continue to top rural thieves’ shopping lists – as many south west farmers have sadly found in recent months.

“A new breed of determined criminal with networks across the UK and abroad continue to target the countryside which is why it’s more important than ever to protect agricultural vehicles with CESAR marking, immobilisers and trackers. ATVs are attractive to thieves because they have high value in relation to weight, they can be sold on across the globe, and they can be lifted into the back of a van.

“Livestock rearing areas are currently the hardest hit, as farmers checking livestock and feeding sheep and cattle in the fields use quads extensively during the winter months. Thieves tend to target farms which look easy targets, so having good, visible security in the farm yard is an effective deterrent, so it does pay to install and regularly update alarms, cameras and locks around the farm yard.

“Another point to remember is that after stealing a quad, thieves will often revisit a farm after a few weeks to see if a shiny new replacement is in place which they can steal. So, if you do suffer a quad theft, try and store the replacement in a difference place on the farm, and make sure it’s well protected.”

Read more: Dorset Police issue warning as ATV and UTV thefts rise

PC Martin Beck, Devon & Cornwall Police Rural Affairs Officer for Devon, said: “We have seen an increase in rural crime, notably theft of quad bikes, tools and GPS tracking systems for tractors (StarFire Systems) in the past few weeks. This has been typically in East and Mid Devon and similar increases have been recorded in Dorset.

“If you have a StarFire GPS System, or other brand such as Trimble systems please be aware and review security. Make a note of your GPS serial numbers and keep those separately, and mark the equipment in some way if possible. If you have a StarFire 6000 series device and haven’t done so already, please PIN enable it. Providing the serial numbers to the manufacturers in the event of the StarFire unit being stolen helps the manufacturers flag it up as stolen and therefore harder to re-register. Help make your StarFire system useless if it is stolen.

“Please report any suspicious activity promptly and, if possible, make a note of vehicle registrations and persons seen. If you have any information or are offered a GPS system please email or phone 101 quoting crime reference CR/110481/19. Alternatively record it via NFU Crimestoppers - or anonymously via 0800 783 0137.”

Martin added: “Officers are working 24/7 in your area to tackle this crime and we need your help in finding those responsible and making it more difficult for such crimes to be committed. Secure it, mark it, report it.”

With thieves keen to get their hands on farmers’ quads, security is a high priority.

Quad advice:

• Always remove keys from quads when not in use

• Keep quads locked up in well-secured buildings at night

• Fit and lock gates to the farm yard to prevent thieves having easy access

• Fit CESAR marking - we see fewer marked quads being stolen, and better recovery rates

• Consider fitting trackers and secure devices such as Quad Vice

• Know what you own. Take pictures of your vehicles and record serial numbers