Theft of livestock and machinery is a very serious crime, with serious consequences for the farmer.  To put it into perspective, over £2.3m worth of livestock was reported as stolen in 2020 and millions of pounds worth of machinery is stolen each year.  There are many rural communities joining Neighbourhood Watch to help monitor and report any suspicious activities to help the farmers and land owners to protect their property.

In this section we will explore the facts, consider the actions that can be taken to help prevent these from happening and encourage our communities to report all suspicious behaviour.

Livestock theft


  • £2.3m worth of livestock was stolen in 2020.
  • There was an 11% rise in reports of sheep rustling over a two-year period.
  • It has become an organised crime with thousands of pounds worth of sheep being stolen in just one raid.
  • Rustling has a larger effect than the immediate cost of the crime - losing sheep which have been bred over multiple generations has a long lasting financial and emotional impact.
  • Insurers have reported that it’s the third most costly crime for the UK's farming sector.
  • 108 cases have been reported over the past four years in Devon and Cornwall alone.
  • During one single raid in 2019, a total of 220 sheep were stolen.
  • Less than 1% (0.75%) of sheep rustling incidents end with a conviction.

What can be done?

There are many ways in which you can help:

  1. If you see unusual vehicles loading livestock - REPORT IT
  2. If you see a gate open - CLOSE IT
  3. If you see people hanging around that seem suspicious  - REPORT IT

How to report it?

If it is an emergency - a crime is in progress or someone is in danger - call 999

To report a crime, after the event has taken place - call 101

Theft of machinery and vehicles

According to research from NFU Mutual, there has been a significant increase in the number of cases of expensive tractor thefts “to order” in recent years. In fact, machinery theft is reported to be costing the industry in the region of £40 million, with quad bikes, power tools and 4×4 vehicles all stolen in larger numbers by what is thought to be planned thefts. It seems farms and rural establishments are just too tempting for thieves as the escalating cost of fuel (with red diesel at 70 pence per litre, and rising) means that large full tanks are worth thousands of pounds to thieves, with no regard whatsoever to the disruption and cost to the farmer.

The facts and trends

  • Theft of quadbikes is very popular as they are easily transported and there is demand from agricultural and leisure markets
  • Thieves think machinery are easy targets - due to the remoteness of many locations
  • Agricultural vehicle theft rose to £9.3m in 2020, a 25% increase on the year before
  • Many of the agricultural vehicles and machinery thefts are carried out by organised gangs

Quads and ATVS

  • Quads and ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) are disappearing from farms in large numbers – thanks to being easy to transport and absence of registration plates
  • The cost of Quad and ATV theft claims to NFU Mutual rose to £3.1m in 2019 – a rise of 21%
  • Smaller, more portable equipment such as quads and ATVs continued to be a target for thieves under Coronavirus
  • Bespoke physical security devices, such as Quad Vice, can deter opportunist thieves
  • CESAR marking and tracking devices are the most effective security measures, once basic measures of removing keys and keeping vehicles out of sight in a building with the machine secured have been addressed

Land Rover Defenders

  • Land Rover Defenders remain highly desirable to thieves with landies insured by NFU Mutual stolen in 2019 at a claims cost of £2.1m.
  • However, while at least four Defender thefts a week were being reported in January 2020, numbers fell from March to June
  • Trackers, alarms and storing vehicles out of sight help deter thieves from stealing these British icons


  • The cost of agricultural vehicle theft claims to NFU Mutual rose by nearly 25% to £9.3m in 2019
  • Thieves are increasingly cloning the identity of tractors to make detection more difficult
  • Thieves are stealing expensive tractors costing over £50,000 for export to developed counties and small, older tractors to export to third world countries
  • NFU Mutual goes to extreme lengths to trace and recover stolen kit and in one operation with Navcis earlier in 2020 four tractors and a farm loader worth £108,000 were traced to Poland and brought back to the UK.

Thieves may believe there is a low risk of being caught due to the remoteness of crime scenes and distance from police resources. But thieves do get caught. This person was from Poland!  -  “Man charged with theft of £80,000 farm machinery in Somerset” - 

And some property does get recovered!

A large quantity of stolen machinery has been recovered by policeTwenty-six items of plant machinery, farm and highways equipment were recovered at a farm site near Sparkford, Somerset on Friday October 16 -many of which were stolen from locations across the country.

Steps to take to reduce the risk of machinery theft:

  • Where possible, vehicles should be housed in a lockable garage or building, ideally with security lighting installed to the perimeter.
  • Vehicles should always be locked when not in use, with the keys kept hidden and locked away in a secure location.
  • Keep recordings or photographs of serial numbers and vehicles as these can be crucial in recovery, should the worst happen.

Steps you can take to prevent theft of quads and all-terrain vehicles:

  • Invest in a bespoke quad security device, such as Quadvice or a quality padlock and chain, such as those approved by Secured By Design - a police approved product scheme. Securing to a fixed point on the ground or something that takes time to remove will also act as a deterrent.
  • Never leave your keys in the ignition, even if you only briefly leave your ATV unattended.
  • Keep gates to yards closed as open gates can be an open invitation to thieves.

Steps you can take to prevent theft of tractors:

  • Mark machinery with DNA marking devices and SmartWater tools
  • Sign up to CESAR, an agricultural equipment registration scheme, which increases the chance of recovering stolen goods by helping police identify stolen machinery
  • Have the Vehicle Identification Number etched on windows. This makes the vehicle more detectable and less appealing to thieves because they have to grind out the numbers.
  • Install immobilisers, chip keys and trackers as these are a simple way to deter criminals or track vehicles and can be fitted easily by an experienced agricultural engineer. 

Fuel theft:

Steps you can take to prevent fuel theft happening on your land:

  • Store fuel tanks within secure buildings or cages, keeping them locked and alarmed.
  • Install an anti-siphon device on vehicles.
  • Protect fuel tanks by equipping them with an alarm that will sound when fuel levels drop.
  • Install CCTV that focuses on fuel tanks.
  • Keep a regular inventory so you can identify missing fuel.