THE COST of rural crime throughout the North-East in 2019 totalled £8.6m, a 0.4 per cent increase on the previous year.

In its latest report, NFU Mutual said rural crime increased in every region and nation in the UK with an overall cost of £54.3m for 2019 - the highest total in eight years.

Northumberland didn’t make the list of the top 30 worst affected counties, but Cumbria recorded £793,817 in costs and a 10 per cent increase on the previous year.

For the second year running, the sharp rise is believed to be driven by thefts of high value tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles.

Livestock theft also increased in 2019, with organised gangs taking large numbers of sheep, which are thought to be entering the food chain illegally.

The cost of agricultural vehicle theft throughout the UK totalled £9.3m, quad bikes £3.1m, livestock theft £3m and Land Rover Defender theft £2.1m.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “The lockdown resulted in an initial reduction in thefts overall. But criminals continued to target the countryside and there were spikes in crimes such as livestock rustling.

“Rural crime is like a wave as organised criminality spreads through our villages, farms and fells, affecting everyone in the countryside. As the economic impact of the pandemic begins to bite, we are concerned that criminal activity could escalate.”

Jim McLaren, the chairman of NFU Mutual, said: “We will continue to fight crime, using our expertise and support to protect families, farms and livelihoods.”