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Tractors, quad bikes, Land Rover Defenders and livestock amongst top targets as cost of rural theft in Scotland soars, says NFU Mutual

By Hector MacKenzie

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Land Rovers hold great value for thieves and feature prominently in the rural crime hit list.
Land Rovers hold great value for thieves and feature prominently in the rural crime hit list.

The cost of rural theft in Scotland rose 44.1 per cent to £2.3m in 2019 as organised criminal gangs targeted farmers’ high-value tractors, quad bikes and livestock.

In its 2020 Rural Crime Report, published today, leading rural insurer NFU Mutual reveals that rural theft costs in Scotland rose by a higher percentage than in any part of the UK.

However, despite double-figure percentage increases in 2018 and 2019, Scotland’s rural crime cost remains below the UK average.

Across the whole of the UK rural theft cost £54m in 2019, an increase of almost 9 per cent on the previous year, making it the highest cost recorded in eight years.

While there have been some reductions in crime under lockdown, there are concerns that rural theft is set to escalate as the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic bites.

Rural crime rose in every region and nation within the UK.

Tractors, livestock and quad bikes are all featured on the rural crime hit list.
Tractors, livestock and quad bikes are all featured on the rural crime hit list.

For the second year running, the sharp rises in the cost of theft on Scotland’s farms and fields was driven by thefts of high-value tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles.

In Scotland, NFU Mutual provides financial support for the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC).

It also shares claims information and expert advice with the police and rural watch schemes across the UK.

Mark McBrearty, NFU mutual regional manager for Scotland, said: “We’re very concerned that rural crime is taking an increasing toll on the Scottish countryside at a time when Covid-19 is putting huge extra pressure on everyone’s lives and farmers are working flat out to feed the nation.

“There’s no doubt that very determined organised criminal gangs are targeting Scotland’s countryside and without the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime initiative we would be seeing even higher costs. Latest figures from SPARC show that £329,000 of stolen machinery was recovered by Police Scotland between April and June 2020 thanks to shared intelligence and greater use of tracking devices.”

NFU Mutual’s provisional theft claims data for the first half of 2020 indicates that while rural theft fell overall during the early part of pandemic lockdown, there are now signs that thieves are becoming more active again.

Mr McBrearty, said: “Closed local authority tips contributed to huge increase in fly tipping on Scotland farms – and an influx of walkers has led to dog attacks on livestock. This is very worrying following the success of the campaign to encourage dog walkers to control their pets on farmland.”

Police Scotland’s Inspector Alan Dron, who co-ordinates SPARC activity, said:"Whilst this financial rise is disappointing, as with last year it is something SPARC predicted and indeed expected however there has not been a significant rise in additional crimes occurring in rural communities but those which have been committed have resulted in higher value claims, supporting evidence that increasingly serious organised crime groups (SOCGs) are targeting and influencing rural crime.

"That is why in April 2019, SPARC published Scotland’s first rural crime strategy which provides a clear focus on tackling serious organised crime.This template enables all territorial policing divisions across the country to model their local rural crime partnerships with the same structure and thus create a more cohesive, professional and tangible approach, regardless of geographic location.

"We have the capability to stop people intent on committing crimes, disrupt them in any way we can plus been able to put some prolific criminals behind bars. There’s no doubt that when some of the major players are in prison, rural crime levels fall.”

To help farmers and rural businesses protect themselves for the new wave of organised crime, NFU Mutual has joined forces with Security Exchange to fund a free-of-charge security service for its existing directors and officers insurance policyholders with AIG PrivateEdge.

Rural Crime Trends

Quads and ATVS

Quads and ATVs (all terrain vehicles) are disappearing from farms in large numbers – thanks to being easy to transport and absence of registration plates

The cost of quad and ATV theft claims to NFU Mutual rose to £3.1m in 2019 – a rise of 21 per cent.

Smaller, more portable equipment such as quads and ATVs continued to be a target for thieves under coronavirus

Bespoke physical security devices, such as Quad Vice, can deter opportunist thieves

CESAR marking and tracking devices are the most effective security measures, once basic measures of removing keys and keeping vehicles out of sight in a building with the machine secured have been addressed

Land Rover Defenders

Land Rover Defenders remain highly desirable to thieves with Landies insured by NFU Mutual stolen in 2019 at a claims cost of £2.1m.

However, while at least four Defender thefts a week were being reported in January 2020, numbers fell from March to June.

Trackers, alarms and storing vehicles out of sight help deter thieves from stealing these British icons


The cost of agricultural vehicle theft claims to NFU Mutual rose by nearly 25 per cent to £9.3m in 2019

Thieves are increasingly cloning the identity of tractors to make detection more difficult

Thieves are stealing expensive tractors costing over £50,000 for export to developed counties and small, older tractors to export to third world countries

NFU Mutual goes to extreme lengths to trace and recover stolen kit and in one operation with Navcis earlier in 2020 four tractors and a farm loader worth £108,000 were traced to Poland and brought back to the UK.


The cost of livestock theft reported to NFU Mutual increased by 9 per cent to £3m in 2019

Although rustling dropped at the start of the year, initial figures suggest nearly a 15 per cent increase in cost year on year in April as thieves targeted farms under lockdown

Technology - including DNA testing, fleece marking with micro-dots, electronic chips and boluses - now offers robust evidence to help bring rustlers to justice

Thefts of large numbers of lambs are raising concerns that stock is being stolen for slaughter and processing outside regulated abattoirs before illegally entering the food chain.

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