RURAL crime cost Essex £2.2million last year, new figures have revealed.

The data comes from the NFU Mutual's annual rural crime report.

It showed the county ranked in as the third worst affected county in the UK.

The insurer found rural crime had cost Essex £2,297,000 over the course of 2018 - an increase of 40.3 per cent on 2017.

The items most commonly targeted by thieves across Essex over the last year were garden equipment, machinery and tools.

Only Kent and Lincolnshire ranked in worse than Essex for 2018.

Overall the east of England region was found to be the worst affected region across the UK with rural crime costing £6.9 million.

Tom Berryman, NFU Mutual Senior Agent in Colchester, said: “One of the most alarming findings from this year’s report is that fear of crime is changing life in the countryside.

"From constant reports of thefts and suspicious vehicles touring the countryside and rural criminals regularly staking out farms, country people feel they are under siege.

“The report further reveals that limited police resources and repeat attacks are the biggest fears for people in rural communities, with many forced to change the way they live and work as a result of rural crime.

“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."

Mr Berryman said farmers were being forced to turn to modern technology and physical fortifications to "keep one step ahead of the thieves."

He added: “The threat of becoming a victim of rural crime, and regular reports of suspicious characters watching farms is causing high levels of anxiety among farmers who know their rural location makes them vulnerable to attacks.

“The good news is that security technology is developing fast and we’re already clearly seeing that thieves avoid tractors fitted with good security kit and sheep that have been marked with microdots."