New research from large rural insurer NFU Mutual indicates that rural crime is rising - led by a sharp increase in the theft of expensive tractors.

NFU Mutual’s own claims figures show the number of farm machinery thefts across the UK rose by 5.5% in 2009. The rural insurer estimates farm machinery theft cost the industry £42.2 million alone in 2009, over a third higher than the estimated cost of £30.28m in 2008 - demonstrating the impact of a recent wave of high value tractor thefts.

Over the last two years there has been a significant increase in the number of tractors being stolen ‘to order’ often for immediate export from channel ports to destinations including Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

NFU Mutual has responded by working with manufacturers and police to help put in place CESAR registration for tractors, and approving a range of immobilisers and tracker devices for use on agricultural machinery.

It is offering premium discounts of up to 27.5% when these measures are fitted.

In addition, NFU Mutual has carried out an in-depth national survey based on the claims experience of its 300-strong network of branch offices located in rural towns and villages throughout the UK.

The survey revealed that 70% of branches reported rural crime in their area had increased compared to the same period in 2009. Only 7% said crime had decreased, while 23% reported the same level as 2009.

Asked whether crimes were opportunistic or planned, 71% of branches said that they believed rural crime was planned; 17% said it was opportunist crime and 12% said it was a mixture of both.

Almost two thirds of branches (63%) reported that perpetrators were from outside the areas while 22% said that whilst they believed the actual thefts were undertaken by people from outside the area, evidence suggested that in most organised thefts, some degree of ‘local’ knowledge was involved.

Based on their local knowledge, 64% of branches believe that better security measures are the key to reducing rural crime; while 18% believe that a greater police presence would help reduce rural crime rates. Only 9% believe that membership of a ‘Farmwatch’, or similar scheme will help reduce rural crime.

Commenting on the survey results, John Kenny, Chief Claims Manager for NFU Mutual, said: “It’s disappointing to see that rural crime is on the increase and that rural homes and businesses have become a source of rich pickings for thieves.

“NFU Mutual is part of the fabric of rural life and deals with thousands of rural theft claims every year, so we are well aware of the personal and financial implications of this type of theft and we are liaising with the Police at a national level to work together to disrupt criminal activity”.

“While we aim to make our claims procedures hassle free, it’s often the loss of personal possessions or having to make do without vital machinery which proves to be the biggest headache for our customers.

This year’s survey highlights the importance of good security measures and vigilance in the battle against rural crime.”

The survey also highlighted a number of emerging trends, demonstrating the changing nature of rural crime – from sporadic incidences of opportunist thefts to highly organised thefts relying on detailed surveillance and planning. NFU Mutual has given each a name to alert farmers to current crime trends: STRIP AND SHIP These vehicles are being taken from fields, driveways and car parks and quickly stored in warehouses, where they are often stripped down to their component parts and shipped overseas to probably Eastern Europe and the developing world to meet the demand for parts.

LUNCHTIME LOOTERS Sneaky thieves are pouncing when farmers and gardeners return to the house for lunch, searching unlocked tool workshops and sheds for chain saws, hedge-trimmers and other expensive power tools.

HIDE AND SEEK Where thieves suspect tractors, quad bikes or motor vehicles are fitted with tracker devices they will often hide them in a remote area to see if the item is recovered by the police. If, within a couple of days, the stolen item has not been recovered thieves can be pretty confident it does not have a tracker device fitted.

GOING, GOING, GONE Power tools and riding tack have proven to be highly desirable for thieves in the East Midlands as they are portable and easy to sell on.

Research suggests many of these items are often sold on at car boot sales and on internet auction sites.

The Rural Crime ‘Top Ten’ 1. Quad Bikes 2. Power Tools 3. land Rovers/ 4X4’s 4. Tractors 5. Trailers 6. Fuel 7. Scrap Metal 8. Lawnmowers/garden tools 9. Horse tack 10. Livestock