International crises such as the war in Ukraine are fuelling rural crime in Britain, a police inspector has warned.

Speaking before Windsor and Maidenhead’s Rural Forum, Thames Valley Police’s Inspector Stuart Hutchings suggested that demand for farm machinery in worldwide disaster zones can leave rural communities vulnerable to theft.

He told the forum: “In the first month of Russia invading Ukraine, huge amounts of large farm machinery were taken to Russia from Ukraine because the Russians had taken it over.

“And we know that from the GPS locators showing it is all going to Russia.”

The inspector, who leads TVP’s rural crime taskforce, further claimed the demand for agricultural machinery in Eastern Europe is “nonstop".

He added: “An excavator worth £105,000 stolen from North Yorkshire is currently in the middle of Baghdad repairing some houses.

“That is what we know, and that’s what going on. What this means for members of the rural community is that the equipment they use has a worldwide market – the second-hand market for it is huge.”

The inspector’s warning echoes insurer NFU Mutual’s 2023 rural crime report, which also highlighted the impact of the global events in expanding demand for stolen equipment.

They said: “World events, such as the conflict in Ukraine, coupled with the cost-of-living crisis, have opened up illicit markets and farmers have increasingly found themselves targeted by both organised and opportunist criminals.

“This is having a dire effect on farmers’ wellbeing, many of whom are already facing significant challenges.”

The NFU Mutual report claimed that the cost of rural crime has grown to £49.5m in 2022, an increase of 22.1 per cent from the previous year.

In the south east alone, the 2022 cost was estimated to be £9.3m, up from £7.5m in 2021.

Rural communities can find crime prevention advice on TVP’s website – which includes security guidance for equipment and estates.

The recommendations include keeping tools locked away when not in use, marking and registering equipment and fitting alarms and security lights.

Rural crime can be reported to TVP online or be calling 101 in non-emergency situations. In an emergency, such as if a crime is ongoing, call 999.