Farmers say they feel “targeted” by opportunist thieves as figures reveal the cost of rural crime in the North East shot up last year.
The cost of thefts from farms across Northumberland and County Durham rose by 12% in 2013, costing the regional economy an estimated £840,000, compared with £750,000 a year earlier.
Farm insurer NFU Mutual’s rural crime survey says the most common items targeted by thieves in the North East over the last 12 months were quad bikes, metal, and horse transport and equipment.
Malcolm Corbett, who chairs the British Wool Marketing Board and is a farmer in Rochester, Northumberland, had his quad bike stolen overnight in November.
Mr Corbett always believed his farm was too remote to be affected by crime, but following a spate of thefts from farms nearby in recent months, the sheep farmer has taken preventative action.
“Thieves seem to be targeting farms during the day,” he told The Journal. “They come on to farms with the pretext that they’re going to paint your shed or are looking to buy scrap.
“If the farmer fails to appear, these thieves use the opportunity to scope the place out.
“If there’s time, they load up what they can get their hands on and they’re gone.
“Other times, they wait until the farmer has gone out for the day and they go back.
“I have heard a lot of reports from farmers in the area who had items taken on the day Hexham Mart held its big Beef Expo event recently.
“My quad bike was taken on a wet and windy night when the thieves knew my collie dog wouldn’t hear them coming.
“These are high-value items with a decent quad bike costing anywhere between £4,000 and £5,000.
“I’ve now built a lock-up with a steel door for the bike to go in, but if the thief wants something, they’ll find a way of getting it.
“And thieves will make repeat visits.
“They know farmers need a bike and they’ll wait until he or she buys a new one, then often steal that. It’s a never-ending cycle.
“I think they plan it more than we think. We’re definitely being targeted.”
The figures are part of a UK-wide survey by NFU Mutual showing the nationwide cost of rural crime totalled an estimated £44.5m in 2013; a rise of 5.2%.
Cath Reed, NFU Mutual agent in Hexham, said: “The cost of claims is increasing as a result of more high-value items being stolen.
“That’s why it’s important to stay vigilant and fight rural crime.
“Our experience with people who live and work in rural areas clearly shows that theft is more than just a setback; it can be devastating for businesses and families.”
Police say they are working with rural communities to crack down on the growing number of farm thefts in the North East.
Northumberland Area Command Superintendent Mick Paterson said: “A bespoke policing operation has taken place across the county over the past year which has seen the recovery of large amounts of agricultural equipment and the targeting of those people we suspect of being involved in rural crime, and this continues.
“It’s also vital we work with our communities and, as well as an active Farm Watch scheme, we’ve held forums in the county which are aimed at helping people keep their property safe and advising how they can help by reporting unusual and suspicious activity to police.
“This is an example of the sort of activity we’re carrying out to tackle those involved in rural crime and causing harm to our communities, and to prevent further offences from taking place.”