An estimated £2.1m in damage was incurred to the victims of rural crime in Northern Ireland (NI) over the past year, a drop of 37% on the previous year, according to a report published by insurance provider NFU Mutual.

NFU Mutual has released a report detailing the findings of its survey on rural crime across the UK.

The survey’s main finding was that the overall cost to the victims of rural crime in NI dropped £1.2m mainly due to COVID-19 restrictions hampering the movement of criminals through the countryside.

The results also reported a 25% drop in the costs incurred to farmers from the rustling of cattle and sheep (no further figures were supplied specifically on NI in the report).

Worrying trends

Despite the overall decline in the cost of rural crime to farmers, not all categories of criminal activity have seen declining trends, the report found.

An increase of over 10% in the damage inflicted to stock during dog attacks on sheep was recorded in 2020 as the number of dog walkers in rural areas increased with the onset of restrictions.

A more detailed look at the survey results points to a steep rise of 50% in the damage incurred during dog attacks in early 2021 alone as pandemic restrictions were eased.

The report also estimated the theft of tractor GPS units to have doubled over the past year.

UFU response

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said that although the drop in the overall cost of rural crime is to be welcomed, many rural dwellers have still been targeted in the period where pandemic restrictions were in place.

“This time of the year is extremely busy for our members, but we urge them to ensure their security is as tight as it possibly can be at all times and to be extra vigilant as restrictions continue to ease,” UFU deputy president David Brown said after the release of the NFU Mutual report.

“With so much going on, things can slip easily, and what may seem like a small lapse can end up becoming a serious financial hit if farming machinery or animals are stolen. Not to mention the toll it can take on the farmer’s mental health and how it can affect the entire family,” he warned.