The combination of dark winter nights and fewer people out after dark could lead to an increase in rural theft this winter, a rural insurer has warned.

The warning comes as the cost of rural crime has risen to its highest level for eight years, with organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

NFU Mutual reported that rural crime in the UK totalled £54m in 2019, and the cost of rural theft has peaked in the October to December quarter for the past two years.

This year the insurer found that while some types of rural crime fell during the initial Covid-19 lockdown, rural theft is now increasing in many parts of the UK as the economic impact of the pandemic bites. The latest crime trend to hit UK farms is the theft of expensive tractor GPS systems, with incidents being carried out in night-time raids.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “The longer hours of darkness can present greater opportunities for criminal activity, particularly in remote rural areas which may not benefit from as much lighting, passing traffic or general footfall in the evenings as urban settings.

“With our specialists at NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd, we have prepared a winter security checklist and podcast to help farmers and other rural dwellers ensure their property is well protected to avoid becoming a victim of theft."

She added: "The damage and disruption to agricultural activities is causing huge anxiety in the farming community and we are working with police and manufacturers to make it harder for criminals.”