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Rural crime has seen a worrying spike in the north of England and parts of Scotland in recent months, with thefts of farm vehicles rising sharply.

The north of England has seen quad bike theft double, according to the NFU Mutual, while in Scotland the reappearance of high-value tractor theft has quadrupled the cost of agricultural vehicle thefts.

“Dark winter nights mean it’s important to beef-up security on rural homes, farms and other businesses to protect machinery livestock and farm equipment from thieves,” said Tim Price, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist.

See also: 10 tips to cut your farmhouse burglary risk

“There can be no doubt that both opportunist criminals and organised criminal gangs are targeting farms with a vengeance.”

In an attempt to protect his business, arable farmer Andrew Barr has invested heavily in cameras and alarms at his Harlaw Farm in Midlothian, just five miles outside Edinburgh.

“It helps that the machinery shed is very close to the farmhouse,” he told visitors attending a recent Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime meeting on the farm. “Even so we have seen evidence of scouting.”

Prevention advice

PC Willie Johnston (pictured) of the Dundee-based Police Scotland Specialist crime unit gave a list of measures that could be taken to prevent theft (see 10 ways to keep your equipment secure). 

PC Willie JOhnstone

“CCTV is a great help, but make sure the images are good. It is no use just seeing a blurred image of a man in a hood driving a white van,” he said.

“It needs to be clear enough to see the registration number and any identifying bumps or scratches.”

Livestock crime

Livestock crime, particularly sheep theft and dog worrying incidents, are also a major concern in the Edinburgh and Lothian area.

10 ways to keep your equipment secure

1 Use top quality CCTV equipment

2 Specify Cesar on new equipment including quad bikes and consider retrofitting on older equipment

3 Store tractor keys in a locked box in a separate location away from the tractor shed

4 Consider locking devices on steering rams – the best are very hard to overcome

5 Weld postcodes on trailer drawbars

6 Fit livestock trailers with Cesar and paint postcodes on the roof. Always register ownership

7 Use a large number of LED alarm lights around the farm rather than rely on one or two large spotlights

8 Keep yard gates closed, especially at night

9 Fit very loud audible alarms or sirens as part of your machinery shed security system

10 Record all machinery serial numbers

“It is no coincidence that it is often around 70 lambs that go missing at a time – that is around the capacity of a large Ifor Williams-type trailer,” said PC Johnstone.

“The inescapable conclusion is that often these thieves have professional help from people in the agricultural world.”

PC Johnstone suggested EID boluses as a deterrent where pedigree stock was being stolen. Sheep with EID boluses also had to carry a black ear tag and that visual clue could be enough to deter a knowledgeable thief.

Sheep worrying by dogs was also endemic in many of the more populated areas.

“It can be a hard crime to prove, but I recommend taking a short video on your mobile phone as evidence. You can legally shoot the dog, but you should report it. Burying a dog out of sight can turn the tables altogether. Remember all dogs in Scotland should now be microchipped,” warned PC Johnstone.

Hare coursing

Hare coursing was also a hard crime to stop, but Police Scotland’s wildlife officer Charlie Everitt was able to report some success.

He said: “We have had our first prosecution using DNA evidence. We had a report of hare coursing and after a search of the fields found a dead hare with dog saliva on it.

“Thanks to CCTV we had a vehicle registration number and we were able to trace the owner. We DNA tested his dogs and came up with a perfect match.”

“Remember, if you see hare coursing you should phone 999 rather than 101. This is a crime taking place and we will react,” he added.