Rural crimes, such as burglaries of farms and thefts of vehicles, is estimated to have cost Wiltshire more than £527,000 last year. In its Rural Crime Report, insurer NFU Mutual said that figure was down from a high of £829,000 in 2017.
However, farmers are increasingly turning farms into fortresses protected by earthworks and CCTV in an effort to prevent their properties falling prey to the thieves.
Wiltshire farmer Matt Fry, 45, had four sets of GPS equipment together worth £50,000 stolen from tractors parked in a locked barn in the south of the county.
“The thieves were clearly practiced and had deliberately targeted these high value items. They had disconnected the equipment in a way that proved they knew what they were doing,” said Mr Fry.
“It is even likely they had a universal key to our John Deere’s, as the tractors themselves weren’t damaged and there was no evidence of forced entry.
“We were left with just one set of equipment to carry on working and weren’t able to return to normal business for a full two weeks after the incident. Luckily it was a quieter time of year – if this had fallen at a peak time, the impact on our business would have been devastating.
“We now keep our GPS systems in a secure vault, with 4 locks between a potential thief and the goods. We’ve dug ditches around the farm and are in the process of installing electric gates.”
Mark Constable, NFU Mutual’s agent in Chippenham, said it was a testament to the hard work of farmers and police that the cost of rural crime in Wiltshire was falling.
But he added: “One of the most alarming findings from this year’s Rural Crime Report is that fear of crime is changing life in the countryside. From constant reports of thefts and suspicious vehicles touring the countryside and rural criminals regularly staking out farms, country people feel they are under siege.”
“Repeat attacks are causing widespread anxiety and exacerbating the problems of rural isolation amongst farmers who often work alone all day."
PC Marc Jackson of Wiltshire Police’s rural crime team said: “We have made some significant advances in the way in which we police rural crime in recent years, however, criminals are becoming more organised and determined and are using more sophisticated technology so there is always more that can be done.”