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In our previous post addressing Rural and Farming Security Challenges it was noted that rural crime has changed from opportunist theft of maybe a few tools to organised crime gangs specifically targeting high end farm machinery and livestock. The latest 2020 rural crime report from NFU Mutual acknowledges that we are living in challenging times for the countryside and the farming industry. The COVID-19 pandemic initially appeared to have driven a reduction in rural theft, but more recently there are signs that thieves have become more active and better organised.
NFU Mutual reports that rural crime in the UK cost a staggering £54.3m in 2019, an increase of 9% on the previous year. They note that, for the second year running, the sharp rise in the cost of rural crime has been driven by thefts of high value machinery including tractors, quad bikes and other agricultural vehicles. The overall cost of agricultural vehicle theft is indicated to have escalated from £7.4m in 2018 to £9.3m in 2019.
An increase in livestock theft has also been recorded, up from £2.8m in 2018 to £3m in 2019. There are reports of well organised crime gangs taking large numbers of sheep which are then thought to illegally enter the food chain. In one reported case from Devon a sheep farmer lost 100 lambs to rustlers, with an estimated value of £10,000. There are even reports of sheep being slaughtered and butchered in farm fields causing a great deal of emotional trauma for farmers.
While the overall cost of rural crime across the UK has increased by around 9% there are regional differences. In Wales, for example, the annual cost of rural crime increased by 11.1% to £2.6m in 2019. And in Scotland they have seen a massive 44.1% increase to £2.3m in 2019.
As the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic escalates there are fears and expectations that incidents of rural crime will also escalate. The high demand for food in the initial weeks of the lockdown is thought to have underpinned much of the animal rustling crime that occurred and it’s anticipated that this will further increase.
The NFU Mutual report clearly shows that agricultural vehicles are prime targets for criminal gangs. Thieves are using sophisticated techniques to monitor farms and the behaviour of farmers to determine where they are storing their valuable tractors, ATVs and other vehicles and where they keep the keys. In one notable incident report from Scotland a farmer lost an £8000 quad bike to thieves who he thinks had been watching his farm using a drone in the days before the incident. The police suggested that the criminal may have been watching to find out where vehicles were stored and the location of the keys.
In a report from Wales a farmer who had previously suffered the theft of vehicles and machinery more recently lost a brand new, solar-powered electric fence charger, worth a couple of hundred pounds, to what is thought to have been an opportunist thief. When a piece of equipment like this is encountered in the countryside it doesn’t take much effort for a criminal to quickly determine whether the item has some potential resell value by looking it up on their mobile phones.
As noted, the cost impact of livestock rustling has significantly escalated. Whereas around 10 years ago NFU mutual would rarely see claims of more than a dozen sheep stolen at any one time they are now receiving regular reports of fifty to one hundred sheep taken in one go. Rustlers are becoming increasingly well organised and skilled in watching farms to gather intelligence. They don’t care if sheep are in lamb when they are stolen and they have zero concern for the emotional as well as financial impact of their crimes. In some cases they even use stolen sheep dogs to quickly load rustled sheep onto trailers and trucks under the cover of darkness.
The COVID-19 lockdown has also seen an increase in sheep worrying incidents as more people take to the countryside to exercise their dogs. Although legislation exists requiring dog-owners to keep their animals under control when in the vicinity of livestock there have been numerous reports of costly and traumatic sheep worrying incidents. In one case a farmer is reported to have lost 14 sheep to worrying over just two months.
The lockdown has also resulted in many people catching up with all of those outstanding tasks around their homes and these activities have generated an increase in household waste. Regional Household Waste and Recycling Centres (HWRCs) have therefore been in high demand but around 85% of HWRCs were forced to close by local authorities due to staffing shortages and concerns over social distancing. The impact has been a surge in fly-tipping incidents in rural areas with resulting health and financial concerns for affected farmers.
Although the impact of rural crime tends to be quantified in terms of the financial costs, the effects can be far greater. UK farmers have been working hard to ensure that our food supply chains are secure throughout this pandemic. They often work in isolated areas and the need for social distancing has further contributed to their isolation.
The emotional impact of rural crime on hard working farmers and farming communities cannot be underestimated. Losing an expensive piece of farm equipment or a vehicle can have a far greater psychological and emotional impact than is represented in the financial cost. Farmers experience anxiety and paranoia, worrying that they will suffer further losses and their isolation can exacerbate psychological issues.
And while it’s a terrible experience to be burgled and lose valuable, essential equipment the emotional impact of losing livestock to rustlers can be even greater. Farmers may have spent years building their herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, caring for their animals to make certain they are of the highest quality. To suddenly lose some of these valuable animals to rustlers is an awful experience and then to find valuable sheep butchered in a field is particularly traumatic.
As noted, the economic impact from the COVID-19 pandemic is only likely to result in further increases in rural crime. It’s highly likely that collated rural crime statistic for 2020 will reflect significant increases over preceding years. So what can farms, farmers and rural communities do to minimise the risk of becoming a crime victim?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ security solution for all farms in all situations. Every farm is different and they all have their own, specific security challenges and needs. NFU Mutual recommends a combination of physical security measures, community involvement and the use of modern technologies as a multilayered approach to rigorous rural security. Security measures and precautions should be continuously reviewed and revised in light of new crime reports and the highest quality security products should be used to keep valuable equipment and livestock safe from thieves.
Here are the recommended physical security measures from NFU Mutual:
Here at Insight Security we offer a range of high quality security products which are widely used to secure farm buildings, machinery, ATVs and more. See our High Security Padlock and Chain Sets along with our Concrete-in Ground Anchors which are ideal for securing ATVs and other vehicles and equipment.
Engaging with the local community is extremely valuable in what are often remote, isolated rural areas. Here are the NFU Mutual’s recommendations:
NFU Mutual make the following recommendations regarding the use of technologies to protect farms from theft.
The extent and impact of rural crime is likely to increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Criminals are becoming increasingly skilled and organised, recognising the items which have resell value such as 4x4s, ATVs, tractors and livestock then using sophisticated techniques to perpetrate their crimes. It’s vitally important that we all recognise the valuable work carried out by our farmers to ensure our food supplies and that they are fully supported in their efforts to strengthen security and protect themselves from crime.
If you have any questions or concerns about rural crime and security in the countryside we are here to help. Give us a call on 01273 475500 and we’ll give you some free, expert advice.
This message was added on Thursday 6th August 2020
Need Help or Advice?
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01273 475 500