Farmers in South East of England being repeatedly targeted by thieves as cost of rural crime jumps

A library image of a tractor in a field in Kent. Credit: PA

Nearly three-quarters of farmers in the South of East of England have been repeatedly targeted by thieves, new figures show.

Data released by NFU Mutual, one of the largest insurers of rural properties, shows 70% of farmers were the victims of crime more than once between 2021 and 2022.

The rise comes against a background of soaring values and low supply of farm machinery worldwide.

Rural crime cost farmers in the South East £9.3 million pounds last year, with the majority of money being used to replace valuable equipment.

NFU Mutual believes criminal  gangs have responded to the soaring prices by establishing illicit global markets for farm machinery, with a particular focus on taking GPS enable devices.

Quad bikes and all-terrain-vehicles were also among top targets for rural thieves and are used by farmers to complete work efficiently.

Thieves also stole quantities of diesel and and heating oil from farms and rural homes, with the cost of living crisis thought to be behind the increase.


Colin Campbell, NFU Mutual Regional Manager for the South East, said:“Highly-organised gangs are causing disruption to farming and widespread concern to people who live and work in the countryside.  

“Rural theft is changing. It is not only opportunist thieves travelling a few miles, we are now seeing internationally organised criminal activity. These gangs target high-value farm machinery and GPS kits because they can be sold all over the world. 

“Many items are stolen ‘to order’ by thieves using online technology to identify where farm machinery is stored and scope out the best way to steal it. They will also spend hours watching the movement of farming families to work out the best time to attack. 

“Loss of vital machinery and GPS equipment causes huge disruption to farmers who are already stretched to the limit and replacing kit in the current economic situation can take months, adding additional stress.  

“Those targeted by criminals may often second guess themselves in the aftermath of an incident as well as live in fear of repeat attacks on what is not only their workplace, but also their family home. 

“That’s why we are working with farmers to help protect their livelihoods, sharing our advice and expertise as the main insurer of farmers and providing support to tackle rural crime.” 

Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne commented: “Organised rural crime clearly poses a serious problem for farmers in our county and it’s worrying that the cost of rural theft in Sussex has risen by 38% in the past year.

“Sussex Police’s dedicated Rural Crime Team was established 3 years ago following extensive consultation with local farmers, landowners, rural businesses and organisations like the National Farmers Union.

"The team of 22 works alongside the Force’s Specialist Enforcement Unit to successfully target criminals who use our county’s road network to carry out their criminal activities.

"Tackling rural crime remains a priority within my Police & Crime Plan and Sussex Police will do their utmost to tackle organised criminality so as to protect our farming communities and the ability for them to sustain their businesses.”

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