RURAL crime cost Hampshire more than £1.1m last year - a rise of 7.2% on the previous 12 months.

New figures from rural insurer NFU Mutual show that crime in the countryside left communities across the UK facing a bill of £50m in 2018, the highest overall sum in seven years.

The rises are being driven mainly by the theft of high-value tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles – up 26% to £7.4m in 2018.

Patrick Govier, an NFU Mutual agent based in Alton, said: "One of the most alarming findings is that fear of crime is changing life in the countryside.

"People feel they are under siege.

“Repeat attacks are causing widespread anxiety and exacerbating the problems of rural isolation amongst farmers who often work alone all day.

"Some farmers are so concerned about the risk of criminal attack they can no longer leave the farm with their family to attend local agricultural shows."

Recent victims of rural crime in Hampshire include Gregory Finch, 31, of Old Bells Farm in Hordle.

As reported in the Daily Echo he challenged four men who were attempting to break into a shipping container and was hit with a large metal object, believed to have been a crowbar.

Last year nine goats and sheep at the same farm were sprayed with purple anti-septic.

More recently the New Forest has been hit by a spate of barn fires, some of which are thought to have been started deliberately.

Mr Govier said farmers were using a combination of hi-tech devices and physical fortifications to try to keep one steps ahead of the thieves.

"Together with digging ditches and putting up earth banks to prevent criminals getting on to farm land, we’re seeing electronic devices like infra-red beams which send alerts to mobile phones and geo-fencing, which triggers an alarm if tractors go beyond farm boundaries," he said.

"These technologies are proving to be effective weapons in the fight against rural crime.

"This is increasingly important because today’s determined thieves come armed with battery-powered angle grinders which can cut through chains and padlocks in seconds to access farm buildings and tool sheds.”

Mr Govier said farmers were only too well aware that their rural location left them vulnerable to attacks.

He added: "Our advice to people is to regularly evaluate their security measures, remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to police and farm watch schemes."