Theft in rural Scotland cost the country 25% less in 2020, new figures have revealed.

In its latest Rural Crime Report, published this week, insurer NFU Mutual reported that the fall in crime was evident across the whole UK – with rural theft costing an estimated £43.3m in 2020, down 20.3% on the previous year, making it the lowest annual cost recorded in five years.

The company warned, however, that highly-organised criminals continued to target Scotland’s farms over the pandemic, stealing high-value tractors, quad bikes, tools and livestock.

Also on the downside, other rural crimes rose sharply in 2020. The cost of dog attacks on sheep and cattle was up 50% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year, while fly-tipping in fields, gateways and country lanes reached 'epidemic' proportions as waste recycling centres restricted access.

NFU Mutual's regional manager in Scotland, Mark McBrearty, said: “While lockdown may have locked some criminals out of the countryside – rural crime hasn’t gone away. Thieves are now returning armed with new tactics and targets. As the economic impact of the pandemic bites, we are very concerned that rural theft may escalate significantly.

“There’s no doubt that when we work together with police, rural communities, NFU Scotland and other rural organisations to tackle rural crime it can make a real difference," said Mr McBrearty. "That’s why we’re working closely with the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) to provide additional funding, share information and help protect property through marking.

“We believe this is vital support because rural crime isn’t just about money to replace stolen tractors," he added. "It causes disruption, seriously affects farmers’ mental well-being and destroys the trust which enables rural communities to flourish.”

National Rural Crime Coordinator at Police Scotland, Inspector Alan Dron, said: “It’s fair to say 2020 was a year like no other and as always it is encouraging to see a decline in Scotland’s rural crime figures. Early COVID restrictions definitely contributed due to lack of movement – however as restrictions eased and society was encouraged to stay local, get out into the rural communities and environments, the contribution of those living, working and enjoying these areas has also played a huge part as more incidents and suspicious behaviour were reported to policing, Rural Watch or Crimestoppers."

NFUS vice-president, Robin Traquair added: “All aspects of rural crime remain a blight on those who live and work in Scotland’s countryside but the rural community is fighting back and becoming more resilient. Huge strides are being taken to address rural crime in Scotland and the work of SPARC, which NFU Mutual helps to fund and of which NFUS is a founding member, is tackling much of this head on.

“Regional SPARC initiatives are in place across much of Scotland providing farmers and crofters with information and tips on how to combat crime at a farm level, keeping property, goods and livestock safe. NFUS is pleased that so many of our members are using this information to introduce additional security measures across their businesses. It is having a very positive effect on helping prevent and tackle criminal activity.

“It remains important however that anyone who notices a strange vehicle in an unusual place or unexpected activity in the countryside takes time to report the registration number and any details to 101 and allow Police Scotland to take the matter further. Even small details may allow Police Scotland to gain a better perspective of the issues happening in and around our farms.”