Gangs are using e-scooters to sneak on to UK farms and steal high-value GPS technology, an insurer has said.
NFU Mutual said the cost of replacing the stolen equipment that forms an “essential part of modern farming” nearly doubled in a year to £2.9m.
“Highly-organised criminals continued to plague farmyards,” with quad bikes also being targeted, the firm said.
But it says the overall number of theft claims in 2020 fell by 20% to £43.3m, amid the coronavirus lockdowns.
Global positioning systems (GPS) equipment on tractors can cost up to £10,000 a piece. It helps farmers map their acreage and make the most efficient use of their land.
The technology is “in demand across the globe” and has become the “rural thieves’ top target”, the insurer said.
“Without GPS… harvests can be delayed and farmers are left unable to work,” said Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist with NFU Mutual.
Det Con Chris Piggott, from the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, said: “The pattern we are increasingly seeing is of gangs who patiently watch farms from a distance to discover where expensive tractor GPS kit is stored.
“They generally return at night to steal, and are now using silent electric scooters to get into farmyards undetected and make off at high speed.”
He added: “Thieves are also becoming even slicker stealing quad bikes – watching for hours to rush into farm yards and steal them when they are left unattended for a few minutes.”
The total cost of the insurer’s claims for the theft of GPS, quad bikes and other all-terrain vehicles amounted to more than £9m last year, a drop of only 2% on 2019.
NFU Mutual’s annual rural crime report says the overall cost of theft in the UK countryside fell in 2020 because of the lockdown, the existence of more police rural crime teams, and increased farm security.
Wales and Northern Ireland both saw the largest falls, down 39.4% and 36.9% respectively, while Scotland saw a 25% decrease.
In regions of England the level of the falls in theft claims varied – ranging from a 9.7% dip in the North East to a 25.3% decrease in the Midlands. The only area to see a rise was the North West, where the cost of claims were up 3.3%.
The thefts of livestock was down by about a quarter.
But the value of sheep and cattle attacked by dogs rose in 2020 following a surge in pet ownership during the pandemic and visits to the countryside, NFU Mutual said.
Other trends highlighted by NFU Mutual included fly-tipping in fields and country lanes, which was said to have reached “epidemic proportions”.
Meanwhile, cybercrime affecting farmers is said to be a growing danger, with phishing emails about farm payments and scam adverts for agricultural machinery.
NFU Mutual, which insures about three-quarters of all UK farmers, says it is investing £430,000 in rural security schemes in 2021.