The war against rural crime is being won – but travelling thieves still cost the North East countryside more than £750,000 last year, according to a new report.
Increased use of both hi-tech and more unusual preventative measures by farmers and property owners saw “agri-crime” fall by 20% nationally in 2012 – down to an estimated £42.3m from £52.7m in 2011.
Security measures now range from CCTV cover and tracker devices on expensive vehicles and equipment, to the use of geese to alert homeowners to trespassers, and louder and more aggressive animals such as llamas mixed with other livestock.
The new figures come from the farmers’ insurance company, NFU Mutual, in its annual rural crime survey for 2012, which is based on claims data collected by branch offices across the country.
The survey says that while rural crime is down, raids by travelling thieves still cost ï¿½760,000 in Northumberland and County Durham last year.
Quad bikes, tools and machinery continue to top the thieves’ North East wish list, with farmers claiming the stolen bikes are sometimes smuggled into Europe in large lorries.
NFU Mutual, whose figures take in thefts committed at homes, farms, commercial premises and vehicles, says the survey suggests that the majority of rural crime is planned rather than opportunist.
Yesterday Claire Sedgewick, the insurer’s branch manager in Sedgefield, County Durham, said: “Even though rural crime has fallen, much more still needs to be done to thwart rural criminals and minimise the devastating impact of crime in the countryside.
“We’re starting to see the benefits from communities working hard with the police and wider industry. However, people shouldn’t become complacent, and they need to make security a priority on their farms, businesses and homes.”
Nationally, 2012 saw a significant drop in claim costs for tractor and quad bike thefts – down by 32% and 17% respectively – and a slight increase for livestock theft.
Yesterday Stoker Frater, who farms near Alnwick and is an NFU council member for Northumberland, said thefts of items such as quad bikes and generators were now the biggest problem for farmers in the North East. That is more of a problem than thefts of bigger stuff like tractors, which now have tracking systems on them,” he said. “Quad bikes are still a big target up here and we have had quite a few stolen in Northumberland. The real problem for farmers is not their actual value, but the cost of replacing them.
“We are now more aware of rural crime and take more security measures, such as padlocking gates.
“Also police campaigns like Farmwatch, and better liaison between police and farmers, is also having an effect.”
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird said: “People may associate crime just with our towns and cities, but there are criminals who seek to take advantage of this and will target rural communities. I am committed to ensuring that Northumbria Police continue to work with partner agencies to drive down crime in our more remote areas.”
Supt Mick Paterson, from the Northumberland area command said: “Crime in rural areas is very often difficult to detect, but we use some fairly sophisticated methods to capture and find people. Those living in the rural areas of our force really are our eyes and ears on the ground, and we’d urge them to continue to report any suspicious behaviour or actions where they live.
“We’ve run a number of operations in conjunction with various experts, including water bailiffs and gamekeepers, who have successfully assisted us to target travelling criminals who we know are coming into the area to commit crime.”
Supt Paterson said 2,000 farmers, landowners and rural residents have now signed up to the Farmwatch system, which allows information to be shared widely if a crime is committed.