Suffolk and Essex become rural crime hotspots as thieves target farm machinery
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Suffolk and Essex farmers are counting the cost after rural crime rocketed in the two counties in 2019.
New figures reveal what the National Farmers Union’s new boss for the East of England described as a “hugely concerning” trend as the cost of farm crime soared to £8.1m across the region.
Suffolk saw the region’s steepest increase at 29%, with regional crime rising by a fifth.
MORE – Farmer’s anger as thieves strike just as busy harvest season gets under waySuffolk and Essex were both rural crime hotspots, with Essex coming second only to Lincolnshire and Suffolk in tenth place in an NFU Mutual league table of worst affected counties.
And criminal gangs eyeing up combine equipment are proving a particular headache for Suffolk farmers hard at work at harvest.
Among those recently targeted is NFU Suffolk branch chairman Glenn Buckingham. He was furious after discovering thieves had made off with a GPS system from a combine harvester at his farm in Framsden near Debenham – just as he was about to start harvesting.
With organised gangs targeting farm machinery, Suffolk farms saw the cost of crime soar to £1.45m, while in Essex it rose by 19% to reach £2.74m. Cambridgeshire – which was fourth in the table – saw an 18% increase (£2.03m), while Norfolk fared rather better in 15th place with a 7.1% fall in rural crime costs to £1.26m.
NFU East Anglia regional director Gary Ford described the figures as “depressing and alarming” but said they confirmed what he was hearing from members across the region, who were growing increasingly fearful.
“Whether it’s fly tipping, hare coursing or general burglary and theft, it all impacts on the daily lives of farmers in far-reaching and costly ways,” he said.
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“And it is not just the financial loss – farmers are frequently intimidated and threatened by the perpetrators.
“All of this can amount to serious disruption to the farm business but it also takes its toll on farmers and their families.”
But he praised the “excellent” work of specialist rural crime teams in police forces across the region, and said the NFU would continue to lobby government over policing levels.
Mr Buckingham said the theft of a Star Fire 2630 GPS receiver unit and in-cab display from his combine in July meant a delay to the start of harvest.
He has heard that thieves operating in his area are now targeting any sort of electronic equipment on tractors, combines and sprayers in the hope that they can sell it on.
“It’s an expensive piece of kit – and we had to wait two weeks to get a replacement system,” he said.
“The worst part is knowing that thieves have spent time watching how you work, seeing where the combine is kept, and coming back to break in. We don’t know if they will come back to have another go. It’s making me very anxious.
“GPS is a fantastic innovation – it hugely improves efficiency, it saves time, it saves fuel, it even reduces emissions so I’m very worrying that criminals are targeting this equipment and putting farmers’ large-scale investment in precision farming at risk.”
Across the UK, the cost of rural crime outlined in the NFU Mutual Rural Crime Report reached its highest level in eight years at a whopping £54.3m – an increase of nearly 9% on the previous year.
The rise was being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock, NFU Mutual said.
And while there were some falls in criminality during lockdown, there were concerns that it might rise again as the economic effects of the pandemic begin to bite.
Organised criminal gangs targeting high-value machinery accounted for an increase of nearly 25% to £9.3m on agricultural vehicles in the UK and reported to NFU Mutual.
Quad bike and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) theft rose by 21% to £3.1m, Land Rover Defender thefts by 34% to £2.1m.
In one joint operation between NFU Mutual and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, five vehicles worth more than £100,000 were recovered from Poland earlier this year.
Theft of tractor global positioning systems (GPS) costing around £8k to £10k is a major concern as farms move to using precision technology to run field operations.
Worryingly, while provisional theft claims data from NFU Mutual indicates rural theft fell overall during the early days of lockdown, there was a spike in livestock rustling in April.