FARM fires cost the South West region £5.9 million last year, making it the fourth worst affected area in the UK.

Farmers are being urged to check their fire precautions and emergency plans, as the cost of damage caused by farm fires reached a five-year high of £49 million in 2019.

The South West figure does represent a fall of 18 per cent from 2018, when the cost was £7.2 million.

Nonetheless, rural insurer NFU Mutual - which has released the statistics - insists that farm fires remain a significant risk in the region.

The Midlands was the worst hit area by cost in 2019, totalling £13.2 million (a rise of 207 per cent), followed by the North East (£7.6m) and East (£7m).

Electrical faults accounted for more than half the UK total last year, followed by arson, which rose by 40 per cent to £9million.

Additional analysis from the insurer indicates that 2020 is on track to see an even higher number of incidents and costs, in a year that saw farmers battle unforgiving weather which led to a poor harvest.

NFU Mutual’s initial claims figures from January to July 2020 have seen an increase in both incidents and cost, suggesting that 2020 could be heading towards a six-year high.

“Farm fires put the lives of people and livestock at risk, as well as having a huge emotional and business impact on farmers and their families,” said Andy Manson, managing director of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd.

“The scale of the damage we are seeing shows it’s more important than ever to reduce the risk of a fire.

"Farmers not only have to be mindful of the usual farm hazards such as electrical equipment, combustible material and fuel, but also protect themselves from the alarming rise in arson damage.

"Many farmers are feeling particularly vulnerable this year, and with straw in short supply after the poor harvest, more and more are using remote camera systems linked to mobile phones, as well as fencing off straw stacks and farm buildings to discourage arsonists.”