Rural thieves are making up for lost time as crime rises after two years of falling - but the south west is bucking this trend.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual's 2022 rural crime report reveals that the cost of rural crime across the country rose more than 40 per cent in first quarter of 2022 following falls in 2020 and 2021.

However, in the south west, rural crime costs fell by more than the national average last year, seeing an 18 per cent decrease to £4.3million.

That said, claims indications from the end of last year show a rise in the cost of rural crime in both the south west and England as a whole.

Farm vehicles remain a top target as Land Rover Defender, quad bike and trailer thefts continue as machinery costs soar.

Last year, well-organised criminals stole high-value farm machinery to a cost reported to NFU Mutual at more than £9million.

Land Rover Defender owners battled a barrage of crime as the rocketing value of second-hand cars and replacement parts saw thieves stealing the iconic 4x4 vehicles and stripping them down, with the cost of claims shooting up by 87 per cent to £2.6million nationally.

And although NFU Mutual saw the cost of stolen quad bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) fall 11 per cent to £2.2million in 2021, almost half of those thefts took place from September to December.

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As shipping delays and the effects of Covid and Brexit contributed to low supply and a rise in demand, thieves turned their sights back to these easily portable, hot-ticket items to capitalise on growing waiting lists and soaring market values.

Rustling has also become more lucrative for criminal gangs, and latest analysis shows farm animals worth an estimated £2.4million were stolen in 2021.

Soaring food prices could mean that livestock theft now increases, raising concerns about food security, animal welfare and people's health due to stolen animals being slaughtered in unhygienic conditions.

The number of fuel theft claims received by NFU Mutual fell from 2020 to 2021, but with record high prices for diesel and heating oil, NFU Mutual claims data from the first half of this year indicates the frequency and cost of fuel theft claims have more than doubled compared to the same period in 2021.

In a new poll of the rural community by NFU Mutual, almost half of respondents (49 per cent) said that fuel theft was now their greatest crime concern.

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The latest crime wave has prompted the insurer to issue urgent advice and a series of videos to help farmers take action to protect their property.

Roz Hills, NFU Mutual regional manager for the south west, said: “Recent claims figures warn that rural theft is quickly gathering momentum as criminals make up for time lost over the past two pandemic years. We’re advising rural people to review their security, to help prevent crime and disruption."

Last year, NFU Mutual invested £430,000 in rural crime initiatives. This includes support for an agricultural vehicle theft unit at the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) which recovered stolen vehicles and farm machinery worth £2.6million last year. 

Following increased investment with NaVCIS and one-off grants to help police tackle GPS theft, NFU Mutual saw the cost of this crime fall by almost half to £1.5million in 2021.