A FARMING insurance agent from Mid Devon has urged the region’s farming industry to “fight rural crime” after new figures released this week revealed a £5.5m cost to the South-West economy in 2013.

The figures, released as part of a UK-wide survey by NFU Mutual, show the nationwide cost of rural crime totalled an estimated £44.5m in 2013 – a rise of 5.2% on 2012.

Jeremy Atkins, NFU Mutual Agent in Crediton, said: “The cost of claims in the South-West may have dipped but the threat of crime remains as more high-value items are being stolen throughout the UK.

“That’s why it’s important to stay vigilant and fight rural crime. Our experience with people who live and work in rural areas of the South-West clearly shows that theft is more than just a setback – it can be devastating for businesses and families.

“One of the rural community’s best assets is its people who can work together to safeguard the local neighbourhood.”

The most common items targeted by thieves in the South-West over the last 12 months were tools, quad bikes and machinery, such as hay balers and ploughs.

More than half of staff interviewed from hundreds of NFU Mutual offices in rural communities around the UK also said they had seen customers suffer repeat crimes or had high-value items stolen.

Although high-value thefts may be planned and highly organised, the number of stolen garden tools and ornaments indicates opportunist thieves continue to target gardens and outbuildings.

Tim Price, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “After a welcome fall in the cost of rural theft in 2012, it’s deeply disappointing to see it rising again. Much of this increase is from tractors – which can be worth up to £80,000 – being targeted by organised criminal gangs.

“There is no doubt that both opportunist criminals and members of international criminal gangs are targeting farms, While the first group will often move on to an easier target if they see a farm has even basic security in place, the latter are professionally organised with a specific target, so it’s vital that farmers regularly review their security measures and update them to keep one step ahead of would-be thieves.