ENGLAND IS suffering from a surge in thefts of tractor global positioning systems – and Scottish farmers have been warned the criminal trend could be heading their way.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual has recorded thefts of expensive GPS kit in East Anglia, the Midlands and North West of England, and is now cautioning all farmers to secure their machinery against what appear to be well-organised gangs of thieves.

“We’re seeing a resurgence in GPS theft in some areas and we are concerned it could spread to other parts of the UK,” said Bob Henderson, who leads the Mutual’s Agricultural Engineering Field Team. “Thieves are stealing all makes and models of GPS control units, together with screens and domes. It’s worryingly similar to last year’s unprecedented surge in GPS theft, which saw equipment stolen from farms across the UK.”

Although Scotland has not been targeted in the recent spate of thefts, farmers are being urged to take precautions and protect their equipment.

Police Scotland rural crime coordinator, Inspector Alan Dron, added: “Despite recent success in apprehending individuals responsible for multiple thefts of GPS kits in various areas of Scotland, it is clear from colleagues south of the Border this is once again on the increase. I would urge crofters, farmers and landowners who utilise the GPS kits to be vigilant plus actively take preventative measures which make it harder for anyone determined on committing crime.”

DC Chris Piggott, who co-ordinates the agricultural vehicle crime unit at the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, said: “GPS theft is an international crime, with countries across the globe experiencing thefts and attempts to sell stolen equipment back into the farming sector. There are also homegrown-criminals stealing GPS systems as people turn to criminal activity to make a quick buck.”

With funding from NFU Mutual, NaVCIS is supporting operations across the country to tackle organised agricultural machinery crime and is working with overseas police forces to disrupt international crime gangs.

Asked about reasons behind the trend, Mr Henderson added: “Thieves are taking advantage of increased spring activity on farms to identify targets and, with lockdown easing, criminals may feel able to travel without risk of being stopped.

“These criminals are well-organised and know what they are looking for – so it’s essential that farmers remove GPS kit when possible when it’s not in use and store it securely. It’s also well worth beefing up security in farm yards, machinery sheds and on tractors to make it harder for thieves to operate.”

NFU Mutual and NaVCIS are urging farmers with GPS systems to activate their PIN number security codes. On older models without PIN security, marking kit with farm names and postcodes in indelible ink or forensically can make it harder for thieves to sell on and help police and potential buyers spot stolen equipment.

“Demand for GPS equipment is fuelling this type of crime and we are urging people to think twice before purchasing second-hand items online,” said DC Piggott. “Although police have shut some bogus sellers down, they are emerging again under false names and purporting to be UK sellers.

“Anyone considering a purchase should get photos showing serial numbers before parting with any money and check with the manufacturer that it is not recorded stolen on their system before completing the transaction. We also urge farmers to report suspicious activity including drones over farms, vehicles visiting that are not known to the farm, or trespassers on 101, and if a crime is taking place call 999.”