Thief stealing fuel from farm© FLPA/John Eveson/Rex Shutterstock

Police are warning farmers and landowners to guard against fuel thieves, especially now the evenings are getting darker.

British Summer Time will end at 2am on Sunday 25 October and the longer nights provide thieves with more opportunities to strike at farms and outbuildings under the cover of darkness.

Heating oil and red diesel are the third most common items stolen from farms, according to rural insurer NFU Mutual.

See also: Keeping your fuel store safe from theft

In recent weeks, thieves have raided farms in Northumbria and the Thames Valley to steal fuel.

On 5 October, thieves stole red diesel from a farm in Tranwell, near Morpeth, Northumbria, after siphoning the fuel from a horsebox.

The latest theft followed a spate of fuel thefts affecting farms in the Morpeth area over the summer.

10 tips to limit the risk of farm fuel theft

  • Deter thieves from entering your property by installing and using lockable gates and by maintaining boundaries and perimeter fencing
  • Plant shrubs or install fences to hide exposed domestic heating oil tanks from the eyes of opportunist thieves cruising the neighbourhood
  • Consider fitting a locking cap to your tank
  • Check tank oil levels regularly
  • Where possible install automatic movement sensor security lighting to cover your tank and the immediate surrounding area
  • Note suspicious vehicle registration numbers and report them to the police
  • If tanks are located in outbuildings or sheds, ensure these are kept locked
  • Be aware that if thieves have already stolen fuel from your tank they may return to steal any replacement oil you order
  • Be especially vigilant following a recent delivery of oil/diesel
  • Consider fitting an alarm system that notifies you if fuel is being drained from the tank.

Source: NFU Mutual

Thames Valley Police has also urged farmers to be vigilant following fuel thefts in Cherwell and west Oxfordshire.

Sergeant Becky Fishwick, from the force’s Banbury and Bicester rural neighbourhood team, said: “The theft of heating oil is an attractive proposition for thieves who actively target fuel tanks at farms and rural domestic properties.

“We would urge farmers to put locks on their heating oil tanks and, where possible, keep any access gates locked and secure to deter offenders.

“Remember to check the oil level in your tank regularly. Look for spilt fuel, marks on locks or anything else suspicious and report this through the 101 number.”

NFU Mutual said fuel thefts cost farms £1.4m between January 2013 and December 2014.

The worst-affected region was the east of England, which accounted for 29% of all claims.

Nicki Whittaker, a rural affairs specialist at the insurance company, said: “While theft of heating oil is a new phenomenon, NFU Mutual’s farming customers have had to deal with theft from farmyard diesel tanks for a number of years.

“As a result many farmers have already re-sited diesel tanks and beefed up measures such as floodlighting and alarms in their farmyards.

“Dealing with farm diesel theft claims over a number of years has revealed that simply fitting padlocks to tanks does not always deter thieves.

“Sometimes thieves will smash locks, damaging the tank in the process, or simply drill a hole in it to steal oil.

“Not only does this mean the tank has to be repaired or replaced – but it also means there is a risk of oil spills and subsequent pollution.”

The Country, Land and Business Association (CLA) urged farmers, landowners and rural businesses to review their security arrangements ahead of the clocks going back by one hour on 25 October.

CLA East regional director Ben Underwood said: “We’ve recently seen figures from the National Rural Crime Survey suggesting rural crime cost £800m last year, so we know burglaries and thefts are a very real threat to people in the countryside.

“Rural areas present a very attractive target for thieves in the winter months, and they will be looking to target machinery, vehicles, fuel and even livestock.

“Small adjustments such as installing security lights and ensuring valuable equipment, vehicles and machinery are stored in secure buildings can seriously cut the chances of being a victim of crime.”