RURAL crime in Essex cost victims £2.7 million last year, making the county the second worst affected in England.

A survey by countryside insurer NFU Mutual revealed a significant increase in the cost of rural crime, up by 19.3 per cent compared to 2018.

The spike is being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

While there have been some reductions in crime during the coronavirus lockdown, there are concerns that rural theft is set to escalate as the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic bites.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Rural crime is like a wave as organised criminality spreads through our farms and villages, affecting everyone in the countryside.

“We continue to work hard to stem the tide and are warning rural communities and helping with prevention advice, as there are real concerns for the months ahead as the economic impact of Coronavirus really starts to bite.

“As well as the financial cost, there’s a serious effect on the mental well-being of people living in rural and often isolated areas.

“There are fears that the impact will be felt harder this year as farmers have been working flat out to feed the nation. And, of course, many rural communities have been put under additional pressure by the challenges brought by Covid-19.”

“There’s no doubt organised criminal gangs are targeting our countryside again.

“These figures would be much higher if it weren’t for specialist rural crime teams in police forces and improved farm security measures such as trackers for tractors and quads.”