HIGHLY-ORGANISED criminals continued to plague North Yorkshire's farmyards over the pandemic, a new report has found.

Insurance company NFU Mutual published its latest Rural Crime Report with a strong warning that "crime hasn’t gone away".

NFU Mutual said it had seen a large number of cases where criminals had stolen high-value farming Global Positioning Systems, quad bikes and ATVs.

The UK cost of agricultural vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual remained at over £9 million in 2020.

Meanwhile the company claimed fly-tipping in fields, gateways and country lanes reached 'epidemic proportions' as waste recycling centres restricted access.

The mess left farmers responsible for the clean-up of dumped items and posed a risk to their health, their livestock's health and the environment.

Other rural crimes, including dog attacks on livestock and fly-tipping, rose sharply with the value of sheep and cattle attacked by dogs in the UK shooting up by 10 per cent in 2020.

NFU Mutual associated the rise with a surge in pet ownership and visits to the countryside.

The worrying data also showed the cost of attacks increased by 50 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year.

Claire Radley, NFU Mutual Agent in Skipton, said: “While lockdown may have locked some criminals out of the countryside – rural crime hasn’t gone away. Thieves are now returning armed with new tactics and targets.  As the economic impact of the pandemic bites, we are very concerned that rural theft may escalate significantly.”

But, in more positive news, a plan to tackle rural theft in North Yorkshire has seen the cost drop by more than 40 per cent during the pandemic.

NFU Mutual, North Yorkshire Police, farmers and locals teamed up to create a Rural Watch Scheme - seeing the cost reached the lowest annual cost recorded in five years at £1.29 million.

Claire said: “Coronavirus restrictions, beefed up farm security and rural crime initiatives provided a welcome fall in rural thefts last year.

“There’s no doubt that when we work together with police, farmers, communities and other rural organisations to tackle rural crime it can make a real difference. That’s why we’re working closely with police and the farming community to share information, help protect property and raise awareness.

“We are urging the public, many of whom are using the countryside more, to support our farmers and rural communities by reporting suspicious sightings and crimes to the police.

"Our farmers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic keeping the nation fed and caring for the countryside. By working together we can stem the tide when the criminals become more active again.”

The report comes after NFU Mutual announced £430,000 of support set to be handed out nationally to fight the return of rural raiders.

Claire said: “We believe this is vital support because rural crime isn’t just about money to replace stolen quads.

"It causes disruption, seriously affects farmers’ mental well-being and destroys the trust which enables rural communities to flourish.”