FARMERS have seen an increase in the amount of livestock and machinery stolen from farms in East Lancashire, new figures show.

Insurers attached to the National Farmer’s Union say the cost of rural crime in Lancashire rose by 38 per cent last year.

Quad bikes, tools and livestock were the most-targeted items, costing local farmers an estimated £1.8million, up from £1.3million in 2012, said NFU Mutual.

Andrew Rothwell, Clitheroe NFU Mutual group secretary said thieves saw farms as ‘easy pickings’ compared to urban areas.

He added that many smaller farms struggled to keep assets under watch when only family members worked on the property.

He said: “Rural crime has escalated substantially recently. As urban areas become more and more security-conscious it seems that thieves are looking into the countryside. We have always seen machinery going missing from farms; lately it’s increased and there have been a lot of livestock thefts too.

“Farmers are becoming more aware but it can be difficult on small farms like we have in Lancashire. It’s hard to keep tabs on livestock in our upland areas. However, we have been working closely with Lancashire Police and there are a number of initiatives farmers can use. We are also seeing more prosecutions taking place.”

The figures come just weeks after police conducted extra rural patrols, targeting suspected offenders and visiting farms and rural businesses to offer crime prevention advice as part of Operation Firecrest.

NFU Mutual’s annual Rural Crime Survey shows the nationwide cost of rural crime totalled an estimated £44.5m in 2013 — a rise of 5.2 per cent compared to 38 per cent in Lancashire.

Garry Watson, NFU Mutual branch manager, said: “The cost of claims is increasing as a result of more high-value items being stolen. That’s why it’s important to stay vigilant and fight rural crime. Our experience with people who live and work in rural areas of Lancashire clearly shows that theft is more than just a setback — it can be devastating for businesses and families.

“One of the rural community’s best assets is its people, who can work together to safeguard the local neighbourhood. That is why NFU Mutual organises the Country Crime Fighters Awards, a nationwide competition to support and encourage examples of crime prevention taking place in the countryside.”

Anyone with information about rural crime can call police on 101.