A SOMERSET farmer had his quad bike stolen during lockdown - almost a year to the day after thieves took another one from him.

The thieves made off with the bike, along with a strimmer, scrap batteries and tools from the workshop of Richard Willcox's farm near Highbridge in May.

It came shortly before insurer NFU Mutual issued figures showing the cost of rural crime in the county rose 11 per cent to £1.4million last year as criminal gangs targeted farm machinery and livestock.

Mr Wilcox said: "I have my suspicions that it was the same gang that returned this year.

"The quad is such a vital piece of kit that they must have known that I would replace it.

"Since the second theft, I have invested in a steel roller shutter on the workshop and a motion sensor inside that alerts us at the house to any movement at night.

"The new quad also has a tracker installed.

"The theft in 2019 occurred when I had left the farm for the afternoon and you have that thought in the back of your head each time the farm is vacant that something like that might happen again."

Mr Wilcox has also had 'cold callers' coming to the farm to stake out what is there, while others have reported frequent sightings of suspicious vehicles.

He added: "It is unsettling to think that people might be staking out the farm and trying to work out what we have here, particularly as it’s not just a place of work but my home too.

"I’m sure the thieves know the layout of farms in the area and come prepared to load up quads and any other equipment they can get their hands on."

NFU Mutual's Somerset agent Gemma Heal said rural theft fell during the first half of 2020, although there was a spike on livestock rustling in April and the targeting of GPS equipment.

She added: "Rural crime is like a wave as organised criminality spreads through our villages, farms and rural towns, 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 concerns for the months ahead as the economic impact of coronavirus bites.

"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 many rural communities have been put under additional pressure by the challenges brought by Covid-19."