A rise in the cost of countryside crime has been driven by sheep-rustling and thieves stealing fuel and other chemicals, figures suggest.
The price of rural crime to UK farmers totalled £44.5 million in 2013, up from £42.3 million the previous year, according to insurance figures, a rise of 5.2 per cent.
Tools, quad bikes and oil or diesel were the three most commonly stolen items in 2013.
Based on data gathered from its offices around the country, NFU Mutual also estimated that the number of sheep stolen had jumped from 73,370 to 91,562, a rise of 25 per cent.
Company staff said farmers are increasingly seeing fuel and other chemicals stolen, including 370 litres of pesticides taken from a farm in Norfolk said to be worth around £20,000.
In Northern Ireland, rural crime was up 15 per cent – costing an estimated £3.9m in 2013 (up from £3.4m in 2012).
Livestock, tractors and tools are the most-targeted items in the Province.
Martin Malone, NFU Mutual manager for Northern Ireland, said: “The cost of claims is increasing as a result of more high-value items being stolen.
“That’s why it’s important to stay vigilant and fight rural crime.”
He added: “Our experience with people who live and work in rural areas of Northern Ireland clearly shows that theft is more than just a setback – it can be devastating for businesses and families.”
Commenting on the overall UK figures, Matthew Scott, who is the chief claims manager for the insurer, said: “After a welcome fall, we’re starting to see the cost of crime in the countryside creep up towards its 2011 peak.
“Much of this increase is from tractors – often worth up to £80,000 – being targeted by organised criminal gangs.
“These machines are not only valuable, but they are also essential to running a farm and are sorely missed.”
Mr Malone said that one of the rural community’s “best assets is its people”.
They can work together to safeguard the local neighbourhood, he said.
Mr Malone added: “That is why NFU Mutual organises the Country Crime Fighters Awards, a nationwide competition to support and encourage fantastic examples of crime prevention taking place in the countryside.
“You can enter or nominate someone on our website.”
A £1.7m initiative to subsidise security devices on farm machinery has recently been extended to cover the whole of Northern Ireland.
Farmers can register their interest by calling NFU Mutual on 028 9081 8688.
Visit www.nfumutual.co.uk/ruralcrime for more information on the Rural Crime Survey.