‘Agri-crime’ on the rise say NFU

Following a spate of sheep rustling in the Borders last Spring and heating oil thefts in Berwickshire over the winter, new figures have revealed that Scotland is in the grip of a rural crimewave as the number of thefts from farms has shot up by more than two thirds in two years.

New figures have revealed that goods worth a total of £1.4million were stolen from Scottish farms last year as criminals searched the countryside for tools and quad bikes, while Berwickshire and the Borders was plundered for heating oil amid one of the worst winters on record.

The region’s livestock was also targetted, with around 200 sheep stolen from Redheugh Farm in Cockburnspath during 2010, and a further 20 sheep and lambs taken from Westruther Mains Farm.

UK rural insurer NFU Mutual say criminals are systematically targeting Scotland’s farms, which have seen a 67 per cent rise in ‘agri-crime’ over the last two years.

While nationally thieves have targeted expensive tractors and scrap metal, the theft of power tools topped the list of items targeted by rural criminals in Scotland.

Unlike other crime reports, NFU Mutual’s survey includes claims for crimes against homes, farms, commercial premises and vehicles.

There is little sign of rural crime slowing as the countryside continues to prove difficult to police and attitudes towards security remain relaxed.

When asked about the main reason thieves target the countryside, 41 per cent of branches said the fact it was such a sparse area made it difficult to police, with 32 per cent claiming there was less chance of thieves being seen. Twenty-three per cent thought relaxed attitudes towards to security measures could also be a factor.

Nearly 60 per cent of NFU Mutual branches believe that the most common time of day for thieves to act is during the night (midnight – 6am). More than half also reported that thefts from farms or outbuildings was the biggest problem in their area, while 12 per cent said garden sheds and garages have proven tempting for thieves.

Robin Gawn, NFU Mutual Agent in Perth, said: “People living and working in rural areas of Scotland need to be vigilant and keep working with police and local communities to help fight rural crime.

“Highly organised thieves don’t just target tractors, Landrovers and farm machinery, they can also make money from items like quad bikes and power tools that can be stolen and sold on in the blink of an eye.”

Mr Gawn urged farmers to take steps to make life much harder for rural criminals.

He said: “Making outbuildings more secure is an effective deterrent and, unless they are marked and identifiable, many farm and household items can be difficult to trace but very simple for criminals to sell.

“Taking the time to mark your more valuable items will make it much easier to trace the criminal and return your property should it ever get stolen.”

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) said the theft of machinery and equipment from farms was a “significant issue”.

He said: “The police service in Scotland continues to work closely with people living and working in rural areas to tackle this type of crime.”