of rural crime
Rural crime is on the increase as more and more thieves realise that farm equipment offers some ripe and, in many cases, easy pickings. Our Farm Security Special begins with advice on how property and stock can be better protected
By Peter Hill
AS many farmers and growers know only too well, the crack-down on crime in towns and cities has encouraged criminals to look further afield for opportunities to burgle.
Twelve months ago, the Rural Crime Bill, which includes arson and other malicious damage, topped £78.7m, according to the farming communitys largest insurer, NFU Mutual. That was 9.5% up on the previous year and there is no reason to suppose the trend will not continue.
But police forces, as well as farmers and others living in rural communities, are now taking the security issue more seriously. Police support of FarmWatch schemes, increased rural patrols and better liaison between officers and those living in the country, illustrate this point.
For their part, farmers are doing more to protect their property; an NFU Mutual survey of more than 1200 farms, for example, showed that 60% had installed security lighting as well as window locks and good quality door locks.
"Preventing theft is difficult," accepts Leslie Hull, loss control surveyor with NFU Mutual. "But it can be discouraged, often by some very simple measures."
Deciding what those measures should be and to what extent farms are protected against theft is a matter of balance. The cost of security systems can run to several hundreds of £, after all, and some involve a degree of inconvenience.
"It all depends on the risk; farms in remote locations, for example, are less likely to suffer loss than those near urban areas, although accessibility is often the major influence," says Mr Hull.
"Most criminals like to hit a target and get away quickly, so premises near main roads or motorways are at greater risk than those, say, down a narrow, remote lane."
Livestock is an exception to this rule in that they are more likely to be targeted the more remote they are. Sheep remain the most frequent subject of rustling but in the past few years outdoor pig herds have become frequent targets. These, Mr Hull agrees, are difficult to protect. In some areas farmers have tried night patrols and trip-wire alarms to tackle the problem.
When it comes to non-stock targets, workshop tools and equipment, ATVs, stock and horse trailers, and 4×4 road vehicles are the most popular. Items like welders, gas cutting appliances and hand tools are usually chosen by the opportunist thief seeking a few extra £ of beer money. ATVs, trailers and, particularly, 4x4s attract the more professional, organised and determined criminal element.
Deciding how best to protect these items, in the hope of saving the sheer hassle as well as expense of losing them, calls for professional advice, and the NFU Mutuals Risk Reduction Service appears a good starting point.
The company has no particular security axe to grind other than to limit claims on its policies as far as possible, and its staff have experience of the practicalities involved in running a farm.
The survey and report that form the main part of this service aims to identify the vulnerability of individual farm premises and suggest measures to reduce risk. It also advises on how to comply with the plethora of health and safety regulations that apply to farms, which makes the survey all the more useful while taking the safety implications of security measures into account.
"The two cannot really be looked at in isolation when locked doors, for example, might have safety implications for farm staff and others," says Mr Hull.
Good quality locks on workshop, chemical store and machinery storage buildings have a key role to play in deterring would-be thieves, and these can be backed up where appropriate by lighting and alarms.
Mr Hulls principlal recommendation for protecting hand tools, chain saws and small workshop equipment such as welders, is to install a strong-room within a larger, reasonably secure, building.
"These are very popular targets that are often left readily available for the opportunist thief as well as the more professional criminal," he says. "A good strong-room can be an effective way of protecting them."
Removing keys from ATVs, 4x4s and other vehicles, even if they are being left for only a short time, is an obvious measure all too often ignored until it is too late.
"I know it is often inconvenient but I have heard so many stories of farmers and others leaving their vehicles for just a couple of minutes to find them gone or even seeing them being driven off," says Mr Hull.
It is also worth bearing in mind, he adds, that since insurers require "reasonable care" to be exercised in looking after property, claims for vehicles with the keys left in place may not be met.
Storing such vehicles, as well as stock and horse trailers, out of sight is another useful measure, as well as collecting rather than having delivered any new purchases.
"The fewer people who know about such purchases, and where they are kept, the better," suggests Mr Hull.
Good locks on stout doors can go a long way to discouraging opportunist crime, says Leslie Hull of NFU Mutual.
Options for improving farm yard security
• Yard access – limit access to one or at most two routes, preferably those in view of the farm house or farm office; close and lock driveway gates at night and use gates not easily lifted off their hinges.
• Buildings access – fit good quality locks to workshop and pesticide store and to enclosed tractor/implement sheds; fit internal locking bolts to main doors where possible. Also fit locks to fuel tanks and pumps to prevent opportunist free refuelling.
• Strong-room – essential for hand tools, welders, compressors, chainsaws and other easily handled, popular targets.
• Lighting – automatic lighting can be a deterrent as well as providing a visual alert, though this effect is diminished by false alarms caused by animals and birds.
• Alarms – discrete driveway, stock or machinery alarms provide a warning of intruders; audible alarms may also have a deterrence effect, especially if the presence of alarms is advertised.
• Cameras – useful as a deterrent if their presence is obvious; of limited value in catching or identifying thieves in a farm situation.
• Vehicle keys – should always be removed, particularly from 4x4s and other road vehicles, even when they are being left for a moment.
• Immobilisers – wheel clamps effective for 4x4s in vulnerable locations, as well as for stock and horse trailers; clamps and other devices also effective on ATVs.
• Discretion – store popular targets such as ATVs, horse/stock trailers, 4x4s and truck-based horse boxes out of sight; collect new purchases, rather than having them delivered.
• Stock ID – use marking or microchip systems on horses and other valuable animals and cash-in on deterrence value by advertising on the premises that these are being used.
• FarmWatch – an effective deterrent if prominently advertised on the farm premises.
• Machinery registers – useful deterrence effect if their use is advertised and more chance of recovering stolen property; includes indelible postcode marking of stock trailer roofs.
Farm theft – principal targets
Sheep – still the most common livestock target.
Pigs – big growth in thefts from outdoor herds in recent years.
Stock/horse trailers – easily and quickly stolen if no protective measures are taken.
Tools & equipment – anything easily portable, particularly welders, gas cutting appliances, hand tools.
ATVs – easily manhandled and among the most popular targets.
4x4s, pick-ups, vans – there is a big market for stolen 4×4 vehicles; insurers will not pay out for vehicles left with the keys in.
It is not always convenient but keys are best removed from tractors and, especially, 4×4 and other road vehicles when not in use.
Stock thefts are mostly from outdoors or buildings away from the main yard; they are not easily guarded, agrees the Mutuals Leslie Hull.
No barrier to a determined thief but this lockable tool cupboard will put off casual theft; a strong-room is best for bulkier items such as welders.