The cost of countryside crime in Wiltshire doubled last year, an insurance firm has said.

NFU Mutual, which insures many farm businesses, said the crime cost its customers in the county more than £1,066,000 last year compared to almost £528,000 the year before.

Farms are targeted by gangs keen to steal livestock to sell on the black market meat trade or expensive vehicles and GPS kit that can end up in markets abroad.

James Kimber, who farms in Christian Malford, near Chippenham, lost 15 ewes and 24 lambs to thieves last summer. The farmer, who has won awards for his pedigree sheep and cattle, said: “The most unpleasant thing is knowing that the thieves probably understood our movements.

“They must have come along with a trailer and just loaded them up. It may have been at night but it could have been in the afternoon, after we’d done our morning rounds.”

Mark Constable, NFU Mutual agent in Chippenham, said: “Rural crime is like a wave as organised criminality spreads through our villages, farms and rural towns, affecting everyone in the countryside.

“As well as the financial cost, there’s a serious effect on the mental well-being of people living in rural and often isolated areas.”

Insp Liz Coles of Wiltshire Police labelled the rising cost of rural crime worrying but said a network of new rural officers would focus on preventing crime. “We have made some significant advances in the way in which we police rural crime in recent years, however, criminals are becoming more organised and determined and are using more sophisticated technology so there is always more that can be done,” she said.

Liz Webster, who farms near Castle Eaton and is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Wiltshire’s police and crime commissioner role, called for more funding for extra officers. She praised officers who had been out to her farm. “The last time we had somebody driving a motorbike all over a newly sown field. The police were brilliant. They were very responsive and incredibly supportive and efficient.”