Thefts of farm machinery such as quad bikes and tractors soared in England last year, a major rural insurer says.
NFU Mutual says thefts on English farms rose 41%, with machinery worth almost £18m stolen. There was also more theft of red diesel and central heating oil.
Theft of farm machinery fell by almost 50% across the rest of the UK's farms.
David Collins, a rural policing expert, said rural crime was generally falling, but fear of crime "couldn't get any higher" in some areas.
NFU Mutual said thefts of machinery such as tractors and quad bikes cost farmers about £17.8m in England last year, up on £12.6m the previous year.
In Scotland, the cost of such claims was just over £1.4m, a marked fall from £2.9m in 2006.
In Wales, the cost was almost £2m - down from £2.7m the previous year.
And claims in Northern Ireland dropped from £1.1m in 2006 to under £500,000 last year.
Mr Collins is assistant chief commissioner of North Yorkshire Police and the lead on rural crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers.
He told the BBC News website: "The reality is this. Crime in rural parts, by and large, is comparatively low and falling.
"But the fear of crime in rural communities is high. I won't say it's getting higher because in some places it couldn't get any higher."
A number of elements had fuelled that fear, he said.
"Over the last decade or so, a lot of police resources have been moved out of the rural environment.
"That's because chief constables have been under a lot of pressure from government to meet very urban-centric crime targets.
"When police stations close and officers are withdrawn from rural areas, the loss of that police footprint has a huge psychological impact."
Farm machinery shortage
The reduced police presence had combined with other factors too, he said.
"Industry has closed, schools, post offices and shops have closed. There has been a wholesale removal of investment. That leaves people who remain feeling a little bit vulnerable.
"That feeling of isolation can get hold and then everything starts to look worse. The small amount of crime that occurs starts to become more of a focus."
NFU Mutual did not say how many thefts the £18m sum in England involved.
But spokesman Terry Price said the global shortage of farm machinery meant "high value" tractors in England were being stolen to order, often for immediate export.
And he said "quad bikes in particular are top of the thieves' list".
"They're just the sort of thing they like because they can be picked up by two people, are easy to transport and have a high value."
He attributed the increase in red diesel thefts to a "sharp rise in oil prices".
Often the main problem for farmers was not the theft , he said, but the cost and time it takes to put things right.
"If it's a piece of machinery it's the time taken to get another one. With fuel, thieves will often damage the storage tanks so they have to be replaced or repaired."
Thefts of red diesel have increasingly hit the headlines.
In June, 68-year-old Rosemary Dove died during a raid on her home in County Durham by thieves.
But as well as the more well-publicised theft of industrial red diesel, thefts of central heating oil from farms and rural homes have also risen sharply, with at least six cases reported each week.
"We find that thieves are very, very sensitive to changes in prices," Mr Price said.
"Last year we saw a big increase in metal theft - copper, aluminium irrigation pipes, old machinery - because the price of metal was rising. The same is now happening with heating oil."
Mr Collins said things were starting to change and the rural agenda increasingly given greater police priority.
"We as a police service are moving back into the community," he said.
"We're working now on two levels - we have wider regional and national targets of crime control, but we also have public satisfaction and localism.
"We are now actively moving police officers and PCSOs (police community support officers) back into the rural environment.
"We are reopening police stations. We are increasingly joining up with other rural services like local authorities to tackle crime."
A Place in the Auvergne
A Place in My Country
Urban Homesteading Blogs
Blogs about France
Monday, 8 September 2008
'Big rise' in England farm thefts (BBC)
Thanks to Craig at This French Life for tipping me off to this story from the BBC on farm thefts in England.