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Cost of living crisis ‘could trigger winter crime epidemic’

AS THE CLOCKS go back on Sunday 30 October, NFU Mutual is urging farmers to increase security as darker winter nights enable criminals to raid the countryside unseen.

The leading rural insurer is concerned that the nights drawing in, combined with the deepening cost of living crisis, could trigger further increases in thefts from farms and rural properties. A recent poll by NFU Mutual found that 89% of respondents believed that inflation would lead to an increase in rural crime.

NFU Mutual claims for thefts reveal that farm vehicles, including tractors, quad bikes, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) pick-up trucks, and Land Rover Defenders, are all targets for rural thieves. This year trailers are also being stolen in large numbers.

Increases in the prices of diesel, heating oil, fertiliser and machinery are also making farms more attractive targets for criminals. Large-scale fuel theft is plaguing farms, with reports of tank raiders stealing over 1,000 litres in recent weeks.

Thieves are also continuing to steal expensive tractor Global Positioning Systems (GPS) which are used to manage field operations, from drilling and fertiliser application, to harvest.

High food prices could also lead to a resurgence of livestock rustling, making it vital for stock markings to be clear and stock regularly checked through winter months.

To help farmers protect their property, NFU Mutual has invested £430,000 in rural crime initiatives. Support includes funding an agricultural vehicle theft unit at the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) which works directly with police forces across the country to combat rural crime.

Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist said: “Pre-Covid, NFU Mutual would see farm theft costs increase in the last three months of the year when dark nights and bad weather provided cover for criminals to get on to farms unseen.

“This year we’re very concerned that rising inflation and the energy crisis could be the catalyst for an epidemic of crime in the countryside.

“We’re continuing to provide financial support for prevention initiatives because we know crime is a huge worry for farmers and their families.

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“Knowing that criminals are watching farms like hawks to spot opportunities to steal causes high levels of anxiety and makes it difficult for farming families to live a normal life.

“Strong security measures do deter thieves but need regularly updating to remain effective as thieves are adept at finding ways to defeat them.

“As the clocks go back it’s a good time to look at your farm from the perspective of a would-be thief and take action to put new measures in place if you spot weaknesses.

“Because every farm is different, each one needs a different approach, often combining physical security on gates and doors, electronic devices such as alarms, lights, immobilisers and trackers, and practical steps such as hiding valuable kit out of sight. Local farm watch groups and WhatsApp networks are also very useful to keep up to date with local crime trends.”

NFU Mutual Winter Farm Security Guide

  • Lock outbuildings at night and carry out regular security checks during colder months
  • Close and lock yard gates at night to deter drive-through thieves
  • Ensure security lighting, intruder alarms and cameras are working correctly
  • Don’t leave vehicles and implements where they can be easily seen from near-by roads by criminals searching for theft opportunities
  • Never leave keys in machines when not in use
  • Remove GPS systems where possible and lock them in a secure place overnight
  • Store diesel and heating oil in tanks away from the public gaze and consider a fuel tank alarm
  • Store fertiliser in a secure building
  • Keep portable tools such as chain saws, jet washers and welders in a secure locked ‘cage’
  • Regularly review farm insurance to make sure everything is adequately covered as prices rise
  • Join a local farm watch group or WhatsApp network to keep updated about local rural crime trends and suspicious sightings
  • Mark tools, equipment and implements to deter thieves and aid recovery by police
  • Use tracking devices, immobilisers and CESAR-marking on tractors and quadbikes to deter thieves
  • Use mechanical devices to anchor down quads
  • Ensure livestock makings are clear and regularly check stock numbers
  • ‘Know what you own’ – record all makes, models, serial numbers and photograph kit to help police investigate and aid an insurance claim
  • Ask neighbours to keep an eye out for suspicious activity and report them to police