Rural crime in Scotland has risen by 62 per cent in a year, according to the latest figures from insurer NFU Mutual.
In its 2019 Rural Crime Report, NFU Mutual looks at the impact that crime is having on rural communities up and down the country.
The latest figures show that rural crime cost Scotland £1.57 million last year, a rise of 62.2 per cent from 2017.
Overall, the insurer’s claims figures reveal that rural crime cost the UK £50m in 2018, an increase of 12 per cent on the previous year and the highest overall cost in seven years.
The sharp rises are being driven mainly by high value thefts of tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles – up 26 per cent to £7.4m in 2018.
Scotland’s 62 per cent increase was the highest in the UK, although the country’s rural crime cost remains below the UK average.
The items most commonly targeted by thieves in Scotland over the last 12 months were ATVs/quads, tools and fuel.
Martin Malone, NFU Mutual regional manager in Scotland, said: “One of the most alarming findings from this year’s report is that fear of crime is changing life in the countryside.
“From constant reports of thefts and suspicious vehicles touring the countryside and rural criminals regularly staking out farms, country people feel they are under siege.
“While the increase in the cost of rural crime in Scotland is disappointing, we believe that without Police Scotland’s SPARC initiative (The Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime), we would be seeing even higher costs.
“Repeat attacks are causing widespread anxiety and exacerbating the problems of rural isolation amongst farmers who often work alone all day.
“Some farmers are so concerned about the risk of criminal attack they can no longer leave the farm with their family to attend local agricultural shows.
“Farmers are combining modern technology with physical fortifications to try and keep one step ahead of the thieves.
“We’re seeing electronic devices like infra-red beams which send alerts to mobile phones, and geo-fencing, which triggers an alarm if tractors go beyond farm boundaries.
“These technologies are proving to be effective weapons in the fight against rural crime. This is increasingly important because today’s determined thieves come armed with battery-powered angle grinders which can cut through chains and padlocks in seconds to access farm buildings and tool sheds.”
Martin added: “The threat of becoming a victim of rural crime, and regular reports of suspicious characters watching farms is causing high levels of anxiety amongst farmers who know their rural location makes them vulnerable to attacks.
“Our advice to people living and working in the countryside is to regularly evaluate your current security measures making improvements where necessary, remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the local police and local farm watch schemes.
“Policing is also a challenge when forces are covering a large geographical location.
“This means that local community become even more important in keeping watch and reporting suspicious activity.
“The good news is that security technology is developing fast and we’re already clearly seeing that thieves avoid tractors fitted with good security kit and sheep that have been marked with microdots.
“Innovative use of social media to report criminal activity is also working well in some areas - and reducing isolation. There’s no doubt that when police, farmers and other rural organisations tackle rural crime in an organised way they get results.”
As the main insurer of the countryside, NFU Mutual has responded to its members’ concerns and has invested more than £1.5m to tackle the menace of rural crime.
NFU Mutual provides financial support for the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC). NFU Mutual also provides support and expert advice to many local farm and rural watch schemes across the UK.