Countryside Unites Against Rural Crime

This article discusses the impact of criminal activity in the rural world, as outlined in the Rural Crime Report, and offers methods of prevention against such crime.

29 September 2023

Rural Scotland

Comments on the NFU Mutual Rural Crime Report 2023

Rural crime is often an overlooked area in crime prevention.

Crime statistics in rural areas have increased considerably throughout the UK in recent years.

The recently published Rural Crime Report by the National Farmers Union Mutual revealed that rural crime cost the UK £49.5 million in 2022 - a 22.1% increase on the previous year.

With that being said, Scotland saw a decrease in figures as the Report revealed a near fifty per cent reduction in rural crime since 2021, costing £1.4 million, a fall from £2.6 million in 2021.

Despite this, the figures are still staggering and rural crime continues to blight Scotland's countryside.

Trends and markets for criminal activity

The extent of rural crime has changed significantly.

Long gone are the days of 'skilled opportunists', instead organised crime gangs are more likely to be the perpetrators.

As inflation rises, farms are often targeted as thieves take advantage of the lucrative re-sale market. This is coupled with the advancement of new farming GPS technologies, which have in turn created new illicit markets.

Agricultural vehicles and GPS theft continues to be the biggest driver when reviewing rural crime statistics.

The report highlights that the highly valuable and sophisticated GPS equipment tends to be the main target for thieves and cost the UK £1.8 million over the course of 2022.

Advanced technology has certainly had an impact on rural crime rates, not only for its re-sale value but is also frequently used by crime gangs as a mechanism for identifying targets.

In terms of other agricultural vehicle thefts across the UK, the report reveals the following statistics:

  • Quad and ATV theft - £3 million (34% increase on 2021)
  • Trailer theft - £2.9 million (66% increase on 2021)
  • Land rover theft - £2.4 million (7% decrease on 2021)

Livestock theft and attacks

While livestock theft is not a new trend, the figures are certainly on the rise and can be one of the most expensive crimes for farmers and landowners.

The impact is significant, not only from an animal welfare perspective but also to the renowned breeding lines of the stock.

Furthermore, dog attacks on livestock have increased over recent years particularly during lambing season. While these are unlikely to be targeted attacks, the cost of such attacks has risen by 50% over the last five years.

Sheep worrying incidents have received increased media coverage, particularly in Scotland, and this is perhaps due to the devastating impact this can have on animal welfare and the farmers livelihoods.

For more information on this topic please see our article on sheep worrying.

Fighting rural crime

The report highlights that collaboration is key when it comes to fighting rural crime and farmers must be proactive about the protection and safety of their equipment and livestock.

In addition, there are multiple agencies across the public and private sector working to prevent and reduce rural crime.

The Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) is a multi-agency partnership, which aims to reduce the opportunities for criminality across the rural and agricultural sectors.

Last year saw the launch of the Rural Crime Strategy 2022-2025 which is focused on achieving the following:

  • an overall reduction in rural crime throughout Scotland;
  • increased reporting of rural crime, incidents and offences;
  • increased arrests and convictions for those committing rural crime; and
  • resilient communities and environments where people are safe.

A copy of the Rural Crime Strategy can be downloaded from the SPARC website.

How can you be proactive against rural crime?

The Report makes various recommendations for securing farm businesses, and while there is no surefire method of preventing criminality, there are certainly ways of deterrence.

With specific reference to farm and agricultural vehicles:

  • always note down serial and chassis number;
  • park machinery in a locked building, including GPS items;
  • remove keys from vehicles and store them securely;
  • install CCTV devices and add tracking devices to items where possible; and
  • use pin protections on all GPS items.

Increased reporting, as outlined in the SPARC Rural Crime Strategy, is vital when tackling rural crime and it is imperative to report all crimes, and suspicious activity to the police as soon as reasonably possible.


This article was co-authored by corporate Trainee Julie Bankier and rural Trainee Mairead MacDonald.