Farm theft is a serious issue – and the latest figures show it is getting worse. It is also costing farmers a serious amount of money.

A sharp rise in incidents has seen the cost of rural crime soar by 20% during the first half of 2017 – despite a 4% drop to £39m last year. Stolen items include 4×4 vehicles, quad bikes, power tools and livestock.

A special investigation by Farmers Weekly this week takes a detailed look at sheep rustling – and the chronic failure of police forces to tackle the problem. Despite 1203 incidents of rustling across the country over the past five years, only 11 arrests were made.

Farmers are losing much more than just a handful of animals. Cases regularly involve whole flocks of sheep and, in some cases, valuable bloodlines stretching back generations are lost forever.

Consumers as well as farmers bear the brunt of such thefts. Most stolen animals enter the food chain illegally – or are slaughtered on false ear tags in the days immediately following the theft, compromising food traceability and safety rules.

Police insist they are doing all they can to catch the culprits – as will all types of rural crime. But it is not always easy. Rural police forces have limited resources and constabularies often cover large, sparsely populated areas. Incidents aren’t always immediately noticed or reported.

Campaign groups such as the National Rural Crime Network – whose members include 30 police and crime commissioners – say it is vital the government provides fairer funding for forces with rural demands, rather than focusing resources on urban areas.

Farmers too can play their part. That means reporting all incidents of farm theft – and requesting a crime reference number.

Doing so will help build up an accurate picture of rural crime and put pressure on policymakers to ensure police have enough resources to tackle it.

This blog post appeared as the leader article in Farmers Weekly on 18 August 2017.