Forget stolen cars and bikes, Britain's criminals have hit on a new way of making a fortune – smuggling bulldozers.

Construction sites across the UK are becoming the target of gangs who steal heavy equipment to order and export it overseas.

In response, the Home Office has launched a task force to improve security and arrest more of the thieves.

The move has been welcomed by the National Plant and Equipment Register, set up in 1996 by insurers and authorities to help track stolen vehicles.

A spokesman said: “If a police officer is given a choice between pulling over a dodgy-looking car and a lorry carrying a couple of JCBs, it will be the car every time. They don't know how to trace a bulldozer.”