RURAL crime in 2016 cost NFU Mutual £39.2m, with £1.6m of that being claimed in Scotland – with ATV theft playing a major role in that. 

Although this overall cost is said to have reduced by 4.3% since 2015, NFU Mutual noted that the cost was rising again in early 2017.

The insurer claimed that rural crime used to be considered as small crime a generation ago, such as the theft of some spanners from toolboxes, but that it has now become an organised crime.

NFU Mutual’s Rural Crime Report 2017 stated that rural crime now involves “determined gangs, who stake out expensive tractors for export across the globe, steal hundreds of sheep, and relentlessly target the quad bikes that are a vital part of modern farming.”

It added that the increase in rural crime had come from three main factors, one being that the number of farms across the country has fallen, and therefore close knit communities had collapsed as a result of that. Also, modern transport links now mean that thieves can steal farm machinery and move it into mainland Europe in a matter of hours.

Thirdly, it noted that countryside criminals are becoming more 'brazen', and that, overall, many farmers felt under siege.

Chairman of NFU Mutual, Richard Percy, commented: “I think two things have happened over the last 20 years; we farmers have become an easier target for the criminals as our urban friends have become more security conscious, and organised crime has become involved in the high-cost criminal activity of fly tipping and high value machinery theft.”

Of the overall rural crime cost, most of that cost was created due to theft, particularly of all terrain vehicles, which cost £2m, and which were the second on an NFU Mutual's list of top 10 targeted items.

In order to target this crime, the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime was launched by NFU Mutual in 2015, and with that scheme, the insurer provides financial support, expertise and training to Police Scotland officers, and statistics showed that as a result of this scheme, quad thefts had fallen by half.

With that scheme in mind, wildlife crime liaison officer for South Ayrshire, PC Graeme Gordon, who is also the administrator for the local rural watch campaign, explained the importance of ATV security, and how to deter theft as much as possible.

“There are a number of tips which can be followed when preventing theft of ATVs, such as ensuring they are locked away in a secure location, removing the key at night, and parking large vehicles in front of them,” he explained.

“Although such measures are not always effective, it increases the probability of the insurance company paying out, but it also deters the thieves for a little longer, ensuring there is a higher chance of being caught.”

Mr Gordon added that securing ATVs as much as possible also means you are not making the thieves' job so easy. He commented: “I know how it can be for farmers, and it is not always realistic to lock an ATV away at all times of the day, but I always say, please don’t make it easy for thieves to steal them.

“Leaving ATVs sitting with keys in them is like pretty much like handing the vehicle over to a thief.

“Another issue I have found is that people often leave legal documents for ATVs somewhere on the vehicle, whether that’s a side pocket or below the seat, and that is a huge mistake.

“If a thief has all of the legal documents, how do you ever really prove that the vehicle belonged to you?”

When issuing such advice to farmers, Mr Gordon accepted that it was not always taken into account by the community.

He explained: “I have seen an instance where a farmer was taking the time to bolt his ATV to the floor inside a secure shed every single night, which of course was pretty extreme, and very time consuming. But, even after that, his ATV was still stolen, because the thieves simply removed the wheels and lifted it out of the shed.

“I think that just goes to show that it doesn’t matter what you do, really, if somebody wants to steal your vehicle, they will, but it’s always best to try and prevent it as much as possible.”

NFU Mutual also added that sometimes, security measures are being taken too late, and Mr Percy added: “Farmers affected by crime usually increase their security after the event, and those who are repeatedly affected end up with more security until they are left alone. 

“As the main insurer of the countryside, we sometimes see crime move almost in waves across the country, as criminals move to softer targets as security tightens in the areas where they have been active.”

Mr Percy also added that thieves will still attempt to steal your vehicles, regardless of the security in place, and said: “As my father used to say, locks only keep your friends out, and criminals will find ways round our security measures, so we farmers need to be improving our security before the next event.”

Recovery devices can act as a deterrent Mr Gordon added that they had helped to increase rates of recovery within South Ayrshire. He said: “A number of machinery companies now include recovery devices as a given and it’s a great way of not only deterring criminals, but also recovering stolen vehicles. 

“There are all sorts of devices available and they allow the police to accurately track where the vehicle is.

“Not only does this often lead to the perpetrator of the crime, but it also leads to a number of other previously stolen vehicles, which may not have already been tracked.”

When vehicles have been recovered, Mr Gordon added that they are often traced to the same source: “We find that the vehicles get shipped abroad within containers filled with grain, or sometimes to other areas of Britain.

“It’s hard to target such movements, as once they are in that container, they are hard to detect. However trackers make that a lot easier and certainly raise the chances of finding ATVs, wherever they end up.”

Recovery devices are becoming more common. ATV Services Scotland's John Yuille, claimed this is for a variety of reasons.

“Recovery devices are a great way of keeping vehicles more secure. Yes, we all know that if somebody wants to steal a vehicle, they’ll do it, but with recovery devices being more common nowadays, I think thieves are becoming more wary of stealing ATVs.

“One example of this is that you often hear of customers losing sight of their ATV, and upon tracking it, find that it has simply been moved to another location on the farm.

“We have found that what’s actually happened is that some thieves will move an ATV to an unknown location within the farm, and then watch it for a few days to see if the owner finds it. If the owner doesn’t find it within so many days, they feel confident there is no recovery device, and therefore will steal the vehicle.

“So yes, they are not necessarily deterring people from thinking about stealing ATVs, but it certainly makes them think twice about removing them from the premises.”

While Mr Yuille applauded such devices, he also believed they are a positive move in keeping people safe, in all manner of working environments.

“Recovery devices are great for tracking where your vehicle is, whether when it’s being delivered to the customer, or is out getting repairs, or even if it has been placed in a container that it shouldn’t be in. 

"It also gives you the option of being sent a text message or telephoned if the vehicle is moved without being switched on, or if the device is detached from the vehicle – it pretty much alerts you any time it thinks it is being stolen.

“However, there are a number of instances where they have provided some much-needed assistance for people working in isolated locations.

“If the vehicle tips or flips over, an alert can be sent to a number of contacts to inform them that an accident may have occurred.

“For example, you could have a farmer that works on really isolated hill ground, with no phone signal whatsoever and he may have some sort of accident, and the vehicle may tip. 

"The device them informs whoever he has chosen, and it allows that person to track his or her location, meaning they can be found easily, by emergency services, if need be, and that’s quite reassuring for many people, and certainly an incentive to purchase a tracking device," he said.

"Although, it’s not always great if somebody has a small accident and can’t pretend to their boss later on that all was well that day!”

On recovery device sales, Mr Yuille added that although more and more people are purchasing them, some people still choose not to. He commented: “Not everybody thinks they are a worthwhile thing to buy into and that’s fair enough, but they offer great benefits, as I mentioned above, and the likes of NFU Mutual offers a 12.5% discount on insurance if you purchase one with your ATV, so it does come with many advantages.”

ATV Services Scotland currently sells ATVTrac recovery devices, which is part of Bike Trac.