Farmers warned of rise in heating oil and diesel thefts

Farmers and rural homeowners are being targeted by oil thieves who are exploiting the surge in energy prices by selling stolen fuel on the black market

With the price of oil continuing to rise, households have been stockpiling in their back-garden tanks. However, criminals are siphoning off fuel to sell themselves.

Police are also warning farms to be on their guard and secure red diesel tanks with lighting, locks and alarms.

See also: Virtual reality to help prevent rural crime in Lancashire

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, heating oil prices have climbed from between 60p to 70p per litre in February to around £1.30 this week.

Suffolk Police said £600 worth of heating oil was stolen from a tank outside a doctor’s surgery in Barrow this week. Days earlier, 1,100 litres of heating oil was stolen from outside a house in the village of Snape. 

Police in Aberdeenshire, West Mercia, Derry, Highlands and Islands, Lancashire and Devon and Cornwall have also warned that thousands of pounds worth of oil has been stolen this week alone.

The Countryside Alliance (CA) said fuel thieves traditionally target farms during the longer winter nights under the cover of darkness, which gives them more opportunities to get away unnoticed.

“These criminals often use just a basic tube to siphon away the fuel, but more sophisticated apparatuses – such as pumping systems – have been reported by police,” said a CA spokesman.

‘Keep tanks locked’ 

NFU Scotland is reminding farmers and crofters to be extra vigilant to protect themselves against fuel theft.

“Fuel tanks should be kept locked when not in use, out of sight, and in well-lit areas,” said NFUS transport advisor Jamie Smart.

“Wherever possible, tractors should not be parked in the field. It is important to keep track of your fuel purchases and usage – dip your tanks daily so that you know if there is an unexplained loss of fuel.”

Rural insurer NFU Mutual said the average cost of a diesel theft claim was £2,120 in 2020.

  • If you are the victim of fuel theft, report it on the 101 police non-emergency number, or If you witness a theft occurring call 999 immediately.

NFU Mutual fuel tank security checklist

locks on a fuel tank

© Tim Scrivener

NFU Mutual says there is a range of ways farmers can help improve the security of their fuel tanks.

Tank, contents and location

  • Record the number, location, tank storage capacity and the date/times when tanks are filled, and regularly check levels.
  • Where possible locate the tank where it can be viewed from the house. Fuel tanks located away from buildings or dwellings are more vulnerable if they can’t be seen by occupants.
  • Ideally, tanks should be within an enclosed compound with secured access.
  • Fit a fuel tank alarm. Remote electronic fuel level gauges will set off an audible or monitored alarm if the fuel level in the tank suddenly drops or falls below a defined level.

Site security

  • Keep field and farmyard gates closed and locked, and block exit points that aren’t used.
  • Activate intruder alarm systems, which may have a local sounder or remotely monitored signalling.
  • Install security lighting to illuminate any suspicious activity.

Vehicles and machinery

  • Use locking fuel tank caps.
  • Keep tractors and powered machinery locked and out of sight from roads and footpaths when not in use to prevent thieves draining their fuel tanks.
  • Check that your fuel gauge is not showing irregularities in fuel levels.
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