RURAL CRIME cost Scotland more than £1.5 million last year, a bill up by a worrying 62.2% from 2017.

This revelation came in the 2019 Rural Crime Report, published by rural insurer NFU Mutual, which recorded that rural crime cost the United Kingdom £50m over the course of 2018, the highest overall cost in seven years.

While Scotland's crime bill started from a much lower base than the national figure, that 62.2% hike is a worrying trend in comparison with the national average increase of 12% on the previous year. NFU Mutual said that the sharp rise was being driven mainly by high value thefts of tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles, with farm tools and fuel also favourites of the thieves.

Mutual regional manager for Scotland, Martin Malone, 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.

“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," claimed Mr Malone.

“While the increase in the cost of rural crime in Scotland is disappointing, we believe that without Police Scotland’s SPARC initiative (Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime), we would be seeing even higher costs.

“Farmers are combining modern technology with physical fortifications to try and keep one step ahead of the thieves," he added. "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.

“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.”

NFU Scotland’s legal and technical committee chairman, Jamie Smart, who farms at Linlithgow, said: “All aspects of rural crime remain a blight on those who live and work in Scotland’s countryside.

“The long list of rural crimes being committed on a weekly, if not daily basis, extends to vehicle and machinery theft, fly tipping, livestock worrying, livestock rustling, hare coursing, metal and fuel theft, arson and vandalism. The impact of crime, and the threat posed by criminal activity takes a huge toll on the health of those who live in rural areas.

“Huge strides are being taken to address rural crime in Scotland and the work of SPARC, of which NFU Scotland is a founding member, is tackling much of this head on," said Mr Smart.

“Regional SPARC initiatives are now in place across much of Scotland and regular farm-based meetings involving Police Scotland and other stakeholders have been held in recent times, providing farmers and crofters with information and tips on how to combat crime at a farm level, keeping property, goods and livestock safe.

“Regardless of whether the crime is organised or opportunistic, almost all will involve transport of some kind," he noted. "We repeat Police Scotland’s plea that should you spot a strange vehicle in an unusual place or unexpected activity in the countryside, please take 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.”

Responding to the latest figures, SPARC coordinator Inspector Alan Dron, commented: “Any figures indicating a rise in crime are never welcome. However, it is important to place today's report into context.

“Firstly, SPARC predicted and indeed expected a rise in the annual rural crime figures collated by NFU Mutual. Key is that there has not been a significant rise in additional crimes occurring in the rural communities of Scotland but those which have been committed have resulted in higher value claims, supporting evidence that increasingly serious organised crime groups are targeting and influencing rural crime.

“Secondly, ensuring those living, working and enjoying Scotland’s rural communities and environments have confidence that any crime related issues affecting them were taken seriously, acted upon and understood was a key priority and thus SPARC encouraged those in rural communities who were unfortunately the victims of crime to come forward and report it.

“We need those in the rural communities to be aware of who may be in their communities, report any suspicious activity, take measures to protect their property and utilise services such as Rural Watch to be kept up to date with what is happening in their area.”

NFU Mutual provides financial support to SPARC, alongside support and expert advice to many local farm and rural watch schemes across the UK. The company also funds a specialist agricultural vehicle police officer through the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) coordinating farm machinery theft intelligence between NFU Mutual, police forces, Border Force and Interpol.

The latest rural crime report is available to read here

Watch the NFU Mutual rural crime video here