Livestock rustling in the south west rocketed last year.

The south west is the only region across the country to have seen an increase in rustling.

The region saw livestock theft costs increase significantly in 2020, with a 39 per cent rise to more than £345,000.

In contrast, the UK as a whole saw the cost of rustling fall by 25 per cent to £2.3m.

In better news, NFU Mutual's Rural Crime Report shows that the overall cost of rural theft in the south west fell by 24 per cent in 2020 to an estimated £5.1million.

The insurer believes that this is because the Covid-19 pandemic reduced the number of thieves in the countryside.

However, highly-organised criminals continued to plague the region's farms, stealing livestock, agricultural vehicles and Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

Across the UK claims for GPS almost doubled last year to £2.9million, as demand across the globe fuelled the crime wave.

Other rural crimes, including dog attacks on livestock and fly-tipping rose sharply across the UK.

The value of sheep and cattle attacked by dogs shot up by 10.2 per cent in 2020 to £1.3million in a year which saw a surge in pet ownership and countryside visits.

Data shows that the cost of attacks rose 50 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year.

Fly-tipping in fields, gateways and country lanes reached epidemic proportions as waste recycling centres restricted access, leaving farmers to deal with the clean-up and risks to their health and that of their livestock and the environment.

Roz Hills, NFU Mutual regional manager for the south west, said: “Coronavirus restrictions, beefed-up security on farms and more effective rural policing provided a welcome fall in rural thefts last year.

“While lockdown may have locked some criminals out of the countryside – rural crime hasn’t gone away.

"Thieves are now returning armed with new tactics and targets.

"As the economic impact of the pandemic bites, we are very concerned that rural theft may escalate significantly.

“The south west’s sharp increase in livestock theft is a major concern, and we are working on an initiative with police partners to combat this crime and deter others from stealing sheep and cattle.

“Last year also saw sharp rises in other crimes such as dog attacks on livestock which caused appalling suffering to farm animals and huge anxiety for farmers and their families as they dealt with the aftermath.

“There’s no doubt that when we work together with police, farmers, communities and other rural organisations to tackle rural crime it can make a real difference.

"That’s why we’re investing over £430,000 in carefully targeted rural security schemes this year.

"The extra funding will help police join forces with local farmers, set up covert operations and tackle both agricultural vehicle theft and rustling.

“We believe this is vital support because rural crime isn’t just about money to replace stolen tractors and livestock. It causes disruption, seriously affects farmers’ mental well-being and destroys the trust which enables rural communities to flourish.