Rural crime cost the Cumbrian economy £800,000 in 2019

Credit: PA

Crime in rural communities cost the Cumbrian economy £800,000 last year.

Figures released by insurers NFU Mutual show the county has seen a substantial rise in this type of offence, with a 10.1 per cent increase over the past 12 months. The data for the North West was £3.5m in 2019, up by 3.5 percent from 2018.

It comes as the company published an annual report indicating the cost of rural crime rose almost 9 per cent in 12 months to £54 million last year – its highest level for eight years.

The data shows cases increased in every single region of the UK - with some doubling over the short space of 12 months.

NFU Mutual say the rise is being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high value agricultural machinery, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

Credit: PA

Demand for expensive farm kit overseas was also fuelling the rise, the report said, adding that a joint operation by the company and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, recovered five vehicles totalling more than £100,000 in Poland earlier this year.

As well as this, the cost of livestock theft rose 9 per cent last year to £3 million, according to the findings.

Rebecca Davidson, from NFU Mutual, said as well as the financial cost the crimes have a “serious effect on the mental well-being of people living in rural and often isolated areas”.

She added: “There are fears that the impact will be felt harder this year as farmers have been working flat-out to feed the nation, and many rural communities have been put under additional pressure by the challenges brought by Covid-19.”

It also warned of fears that rural crime could escalate as the economic impact of the crisis hits.

The countrywide pictures of rural crime. Credit: NFU Mutual

Across the Border, Scotland saw the biggest percentage increase (44 per cent) in rural crime, although this remained below the UK average.

Tom French, NFU Scotland Legal and Technical Chairman, said: “These figures show just how high the cost of rural crime is on the countryside and the smaller communities that live in it. These costs have serious psychological and financial impact on farmers, crofters and wider rural economy and communities when they occur.

“Vehicle and machinery are significant investments and theft can be a massive cost for any farm business. This can be an additional for farmers and crofters, who not only produce high quality food and drink but also act as custodians for our environment.

“In addition to theft, farmers and crofters are also experiencing an increase in fly-tipping and access issues, most recently linked with wild camping.

"These issues impact farming and crofting, but also our rural communities, and serves as a reminder for everyone to remain vigilant to rural crimes and report problems to the relevant authorities.

“NFU Scotland has been working closely with NFU Mutual, Police Scotland and all the other members of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) to improve the safety and security of rural communities."