The number of lead thefts from Lancashire churches has dropped for the first time in three years, new research has revealed.
But criminals still cost the county’s churches more than £40,000 last year.
And community leaders today said despite the drop in incidents, the problem has not gone away.
According to research by insurance company Ecclesiastical, which provides insurance to almost all Anglican churches, almost 30 claims from churches within the Diocese of Blackburn were made last year following lead thefts, leading to payouts of more than £40,000.
The bill for all churches across the county will be much higher.
The figure compares to 70 claims in 2011, which led to £140,000 in payouts and more than 30 claims in 2010, leading to £45,000 in payouts.
Ecclesiastical believes a Government move to ban cash payments for scrap metal have had a “very positive” effect on the figures, while the company also launched an ongoing campaign called Hands Off Our Churches to fit alarms to church roofs.
Fr Timothy Lipscomb, the vicar of Preston, said: “I think the people who are doing the thefts are less professional so we are getting more petty thefts.
“These people are less successful at taking the lead so they are leaving a mess.
“We have also got a thing called SmartWater (water which coats thieves and can be traced) and the Government not allowing cash for metal has helped.
“All these things help but I think vigilance from communities also helps. The police are aware of this and the communities are aware of it.
“But there is no room for complacency because someone will attempt to take lead off, especially if it has just been put down.”
Among the major incidents in Preston in recent years are £35,000 of lead stolen from St Walburge’s Church, in Ashton, in July 2011 and two thefts in a matter of months in 2010 from St Wilfrid’s Church, Chapel Street.
John Coates, Ecclesiastical’s director of church insurance, said: “These figures are hugely encouraging but it would be premature to predict the end of the epidemic of metal theft.
“Metal theft incidents are still running well above levels seen in the 90s and early 2000s when metal theft was so infrequent we saw fewer than 10 church claims a year.
“Even though the numbers are pointing in the right direction, it’s going to take a concerted effort for years to come from businesses, politicians and law enforcement agencies to ensure our heritage is safe from these heartless, predatory criminals.”