Rural crime in Scotland has fallen by nearly 50% since 2021, according to a new report from insurer NFU Mutual.
The 2023 Rural Crime Report, which was published by the company on Tuesday revealed that rural crime cost Scotland £1.4m last year, a fall of 48% from 2021.
The decrease comes after Scotland was hard hit by thieves targeting quad bikes in 2021, with the cost of rural crime in the country rocketing 52.3% to £2.6m that year compared to £1.7m in 2020.
The company said that joint cross-border operations and strong recovery rates of stolen agricultural machinery, helped by increased forensic marking, have played a key part in driving down Scotland’s rural crime cost last year.
However, the situation in Scotland goes against the UK trend which saw the 2022 rural crime costs across the UK rise 22% to an estimated £49.5m.
Criminal gangs have responded to soaring values and low supply of farm machinery worldwide by establishing illicit global markets for farm machinery and technology equipment.
Martin Malone, NFU mutual manager for Scotland, said: “Highly-organised gangs are causing disruption to farming and widespread concern to people who live and work in the countryside.
“Rural theft is changing. It is not only opportunist thieves travelling a few miles, we are now seeing internationally organised criminal activity. These gangs target high-value farm machinery and GPS kits because they can be sold all over the world.
“Many items are stolen ‘to order’ by thieves using online technology to identify where farm machinery is stored and scope out the best way to steal it. They will also spend hours watching the movement of farming families to work out the best time to attack.
“Loss of vital machinery and GPS equipment causes huge disruption to farmers who are already stretched to the limit and replacing kit in the current economic situation can take months, adding additional stress.
“Those targeted by criminals may often second guess themselves in the aftermath of an incident as well as live in fear of repeat attacks on what is not only their workplace, but also their family home.
“That’s why we are working with farmers to help protect their livelihoods, sharing our advice and expertise as the main insurer of farmers and providing support to tackle rural crime.”
Constable Lynn Black from Police Scotland’s national rural and acquisitive crime unit said: “It is extremely encouraging to see that the cost of rural crime within Scotland has almost halved, however, we cannot and will not become complacent in our efforts to further reduce the number of rural offences occurring throughout the country.
“We know that the theft of agricultural and plant equipment remains a concern for farm owners and workers and in collaboration with NFU Mutual we will continue to provide all the necessary advice on how the public can safeguard their properties, vehicles and equipment.
“In addition, we will thoroughly investigate any and all reports of rural crimes that occur to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.”
NFU Scotland’s rural business policy advisor Rhianna Montgomery said: “The concerted and co-ordinated efforts of farmers and crofters, rural watch groups and both national and regional Partnerships Against Rural Crime (PARCs) will have played a significant part in the falling crime figures for Scotland.
“However, there is absolutely no room for complacency as that simply opens the door to both organised crime and opportunistic criminals.
“The fact that vehicles, machinery, equipment, livestock and fuel continue to be targeted in other parts of the country is a stark reminder of the levels of vigilance we must continue to maintain. We must continue to protect our farms and crofts as best we can, take advice from the experts on how best to do that, and ensure that any criminal activity continues to be reported to Police Scotland.”