RURAL crime has shot up across the North - costing an estimated £4.4m last year.

According to insurer NFU Mutual, rural crime rose by six per cent across Yorkshire, costing the county’s economy £3.6m, up from £3.4m in 2012.

In the North-East, rural crime rocketed by 12 per cent, costing £840,000, up from £750,000 in 2012.

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Tools, quad bikes, hay balers, ploughs, horse boxes, metal and equipment were among the most commonly stolen items and more than half of NFU staff interviewed said they had seen victims suffer repeated crimes or have high-value goods stolen.

Nationally, rural crime is up 5.2 per cent, costing the country £44.5m in 2013, with the number of sheep stolen up by 25 per cent to 91,562 and expensive tractors increasingly being stolen to order and taken abroad.

The figures come just days after thieves stole 136 Suffolk cross lambs, together worth £9,520, from the Broom House Farm visitor attraction at Witton Gilbert, County Durham.

PC Kevin Hall, of Durham Police, said he was trying to track down CCTV covering the area in the hope of catching those responsible.

Rustlers stole more than £120,000-worth of sheep from Swaledale alone in the 10 months to March, during a spate of 25 thefts.

Andrew Webster, NFU Mutual branch manager in Ripon, 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 Yorkshire clearly shows that theft is more than just a setback – it can be devastating for businesses and families.”

However, a North Yorkshire Police spokesman said rural crime had fallen in the county since 2009, partly due to Operation Hawk.

Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan, who leads the new National Rural Crime Network – backed by 28 rural forces including Durham, Cleveland and Northumbria, said tackling rural crime was a key priority for her and the chief constable and the results “speak for themselves”.