RURAL crime in Hampshire has leapt by almost 50 per cent as gangs of "brazen and determined" thieves target farms, shops and country homes.

Figures published today by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) show that countryside criminals cost the county more than £1 million last year - a jump of 48.8 per cent on the previous 12 months.

Tools, quad bikes and All Terrain Vehicles were among the most commonly stolen items, according to a report from NFU Mutual.

The report says limited police resources and repeat attacks are among the biggest fears for people in rural communities, with many forced to change the way they live and work.

NFU rural affairs specialist Tim Price described the rise in rural crime as "alarming".

Mr Price said the increase had been fuelled by brazen and determined thieves who were using a combination of brute force and technological know-how to steal from farms and other properties in the countryside.

Rural crime cost the UK £44.5 million last year, an increase of 13.4 per cent on 2016.

Guy Smith, deputy president of the NFU, said: "Farms are not only places of business, they're homes for farmers and their family. It's not right that farmers are subject to intimidation, violence and criminal acts on their doorstep."

According to the report, Hampshire is 13th in a national league table of the counties worst hit by rural crime.

James Prewett, the NFU Mutual's senior agent in Hampshire, said: "The threat of becoming a victim, and regular reports of suspicious characters watching farms, is causing high levels of anxiety among farmers.

“Our advice to people living and working in the countryside is to regularly evaluate your current security measures, making improvements where necessary.

“Fitting gates to prevent easy access to farmyards and drives is one of the most effective measures.

"High-tech security such as movement detectors, infra-red cameras and ‘geo-fencing’, which triggers an alarm if a farm vehicle moves off the premises, can also play a part.”

Last month saw the publication of the National Rural Crime Survey.

Speaking at the time Hampshire's Assistant Chief Constable, Scott Chilton, said: "In recent years Hampshire Constabulary has been working hard to support our rural communities through out dedicated Country Watch team.

"As we talk to rural householders and businesses, we emphasise how important it is for them to report every crime.

"Using the information gained, we can analyse crime hotspots and tackle the organised criminal gangs that target isolated properties and land."