RURAL crime cost Herefordshire more than £1million last year, a rise of more than four per cent from 2018.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual said across the UK rural crime cost £54m and the rise was driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock. In addition, Land Rover Defender thefts reported to NFU Mutual rose by 34 per cent.

Livestock theft also increased in 2019 with the UK cost going up nine per cent to £3million.

Theft of tractor global positioning systems (GPS) has also been a major concern as farms move to using precision technology to run field operations.

Typically costing up to £10,000, GPS equipment has become a highly prized item on the shopping lists of rural thieves, particularly during the Covid-19 lockdown where smaller, high-value items appear to have been targeted to meet demand overseas.

But West Mercia Police, which covers Herefordshire, said it remains committed to driving down rural crime, despite the increase.

Chief superintendent Sue Thomas, the force’s rural crime lead, reassured communities officers are taking action, such as using forensic marker SmartWater on farming equipment.

She said: “As a service we cover a huge geographic area with a vast array of road networks weaving through our beautiful countryside. We are not complacent and take a proactive approach to ensuring that criminals don’t see these rural areas as easy pickings.

“The impact of rural crime on farmers, businesses and the local communities shouldn’t be underestimated and the increasing sophistication of organised criminals targeting agricultural plant, livestock, farm vehicles and machinery means we need to be creative in both detecting and preventing these crimes and working closely with the community to do so.”

It comes as Herefordshire’s branch of the Country Land and Business Association, which aims to support landowners, and those with an invested interest in rural land, said members haven’t seen a huge spike in crime.

Chairman Joe Evans, who owns Whitbourne Estate near Bromyard, said that while members are still concerned about quad bike thefts, rural crime in Herefordshire hasn’t risen as much as other parts of the UK.

He added: “We are definitely seeing a significant increase in the numbers of people accessing the ground as people on furlough in lockdown come to enjoy the lovely walks around Herefordshire. As a consequence of that we are also seeing people who are wandering off the footpaths and that can be problematic as people with dogs get into fields of livestock which they shouldn’t be, and nosing around farm buildings.

“We may yet see as a result of more people knowing what’s about in rural parts of Herefordshire, there could be an argument to say things will happens in future in terms of more people unemployed and more people suffering hard times.

“Because there are more eyes and feet around, that might have an impact, but in terms of the experience our members have had specifically, I haven’t had any examples of issues which are beyond the norm.”

Mr Evans said from his experience, the police force had been proactive in tackling rural crime.