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Rural Crime Rising as Cost of Living Crisis Bites

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The latest Rural Crime Report from insurer NFU Mutual reflects a sharp rise as the cost of living crisis hits rural communities and criminals make up for lost time. Rural crime has huge implications for rural businesses, already facing difficulties due to extreme weather, staff shortages and increasing production costs. And it`s a concern for all rural residents, as reflected in the NFU report. Read on to learn more about the latest rural crime report and what can be done to bolster security in the countryside.

The NFU Mutual 2022 rural crime report clearly shows how the first quarter of 2022 has seen thieves making up for time lost during the pandemic. Although rural crime significantly declined during 2020 and 2021 costs have since surged by a massive 40%. The NFU Mutual’s recent poll indicates 89% of respondents from rural communities are concerned that inflation, rising energy prices and the cost of living crisis will drive an increase in rural crime affecting farms, rural businesses and countryside residents.

During 2021 the estimated cost of rural crime was £40.5m with criminals targeting fuel, livestock and equipment - including vehicles. The cost of agricultural vehicle theft is reported to have remained at more than £9m in 2021, although it’s noted there has been a significant increase in the number of expensive tractors stolen ‘to order’.

Theft of Land Rover Defenders is reported to have increased by a staggering 87% over the previous year. The skyrocketing prices of second-hand vehicles and replacement parts has been cited as the primary reason criminals have been specifically targeting these popular vehicles. Thieves are apparently stripping down stolen Land Rovers to sell parts on the black market.

NFU Mutual has reported that although the insurance costs of stolen all terrain vehicles (ATVs) fell in 2021, most of the vehicle thefts took place in the final 4 months of the year. Criminals are reported to be exploiting supply issues, caused by the COVID pandemic and Brexit, to fulfil a rise in demand for these popular vehicles and their parts. They are making the most of increasing market values caused by supply and demand issues.

Rise in Rustling

Rustling of livestock is another rural crime experiencing a sharp increase with farm animals worth an estimated £2.4m stolen in 2021. This is raising concerns related to the escalating cost of food which is expected to prompt some people to buy meat on the black market, driving more livestock theft. And livestock theft raises significant concerns over animal welfare, food security and the health of those who might consume meat from animals slaughtered under unhygienic conditions.

Livestock theft has a devastating impact on targeted farms and farmers. A North Lincolnshire farmer lost four prized Aberdeen Angus calves to thieves just two months after having been the victim of a violent burglary. As well as being an exceptionally upsetting experience, the loss of these valuable cattle also had a significant financial impact. Thieves apparently targeted the farm in the dead of night using a cattle trailer or similar vehicle.

Rustling concerns have prompted some farmers to take additional precautions to protect their livestock. A Dartmoor sheep farmer is reported to have been painting the horns of his sheep with green paint to make them less appealing to livestock thieves. He says he’s been doing this for a few years and all the local farmers know the sheep with green horns are his.

Fuel Theft

The NFU Mutual crime report highlights how 49% of respondents expressed concern over fuel theft. The rising cost of fuel means large, full fuel tanks are potentially worth thousands of pounds to thieves and many rural homes rely on oil as their primary energy source for heating and cooking. And since their heating oil tanks are often situated outside, close enough to nearby roads and lanes to enable easy access to refill tankers, they are also easily accessed by criminals.

Farm fuel theft in the UK over the first quarter of 2022 is reported to have more than doubled in both cost and frequency, compared with the same period in 2021, and the crime rate is increasing. Although theft of diesel and heating oil decreased significantly during 2020 and into 2021 NFU Mutual report that criminals are now making up for lost time and exploiting the demand for cheaper fuel as energy costs go through the roof.

Recently, police in Wiltshire issued warnings after thousands of pounds worth of heating oil was stolen in two separate incidents. In one case around 400 litres of oil, worth around £800, was taken from an oil tank in a garden. And in the second incident 600 litres of heating oil, worth around £1200, was stolen from another garden-located oil tank.

Police have warned that, with the price of fuel oil increasing, it`s likely we will see more thefts like these. They recommend people implement as many precautions as possible to keep their oil tanks safe.

Agricultural Machinery Theft

Intelligence collected by Crimestoppers shows that much of the agricultural machinery targeted by thieves is being stolen to order and quickly exported to overseas markets. But a significant number of machines are also being stolen purposely to enable other crimes. An example is the use of stolen low loaders to commit ram raids on other businesses. In one case a stolen low loader was used to attack a post office and the incident was thought to be linked to the theft of an ATM machine and similar crimes in the same area.

And since farms are increasingly using sophisticated technologies these expensive systems are being targeted by opportunist thieves. Humberside police have reported several thefts of agricultural GPS equipment from farm vehicles, worth in excess of £35,000. In another case from Norfolk three tractor GPS units and screens, worth around £40,000 were stolen.

A recent incident from Dorset demonstrates the challenge faced by agricultural businesses in protecting their essential assets. Thieves broke into farm buildings and drained both the heating oil tank as well as the farm’s diesel supply. They also stole a whole load of farm machinery including a petrol chainsaw, petrol mower, petrol strimmer, battery powered angle grinder and mains powered grinder, circular saw, battery powered drill, four solar powered fencers, a tool box full of tools and a socket set. Police forces are recommending that all farms and rural businesses evaluate their current security status and take additional precautions wherever possible. Countryside homeowners should also heed these warnings and look for ways to bolster their security.

How to Strengthen Rural Security

Indications and warnings from both insurers and police forces tell us the cost of living crisis and other pressures are likely to prompt a further surge in rural crime. As the winter approaches and people experience the impact of rising energy costs it`s highly likely criminals will be increasingly targeting rural properties and businesses since they tend to be easier targets. So what can farms and countryside residents do to protect themselves?

Layered Security

We’ve previously discussed the layered approach to security. These principles can be applied to properties of any size or scale, from private homes to agricultural businesses covering many acres of land as well as industrial operations.

It`s worthwhile taking time to assess the layers of security currently in place to protect valuable assets. For a farm business those assets are likely to include agricultural machinery, vehicles, tools, fuel, heating oil and livestock. For private homes the assets may include the fuel oil tank, vehicles, outbuildings and their valuable contents along with garden equipment, outdoor furniture, ornaments and sculptures.

Identifying the most valuable assets enables assessment of the security measures currently in place to protect them. For example, if a farm uses ATVs that are routinely left outdoors, with the keys in, this clearly reflects a security weakness that needs to be fixed.

Perimeter Security

It`s worthwhile assessing the perimeter security around the property and around specific buildings and assets including heating oil tanks. The layered approach to physical security generally starts at the property perimeter, so it`s vital this is as robust as possible.

perimeter security
Essential Perimeter Security

Wherever weaknesses are identified, such as broken fences or insecure gates, these should be fixed. And when assessing a properties perimeter security it`s useful to identify any unguarded or screened access points that might be exploited by criminals.

Most criminals will use a vehicle to access a farm so it`s worth considering how to prevent unpermitted vehicular access. High-tech perimeter security, such as geofencing that uses GPS to create a virtual boundary, is now being used by some rural properties and farms. This option is particularly useful where land is too extensive for physical fencing.

Strengthen Locks

Although some farmers have rightly pointed out that locking all the gates on their farms at all times isn’t very practical, it makes sense to lock things up wherever possible. And importantly, the locks, chains and hasps (on all building doors and property gates) should be high quality and routinely locked.

Another important point to consider, especially when securing aged barns and outbuildings, is that a door is only ever as secure as it`s weakest element, which can often be the hinges. So while you may have an excellent door lock installed, if the hinges are weak or the door itself is insubstantial then it will not be very secure and criminals will easily gain access. Wherever weaknesses are identified, fix them.

CCTV and Security Lighting

Sophisticated CCTV systems have become increasingly affordable with some developed specifically for farm security. Self-monitored farm CCTV systems can deliver alerts directly to a mobile phone if an intruder is detected while professionally monitored security systems avoid the possibility of missing an alert.

Motion triggered security lighting is another low-cost security enhancement that acts as a powerful deterrent to opportunistic thieves who like to commit their crimes under cover of darkness. Security lighting is recommended by police forces to help protect both private, residential properties as well as rural businesses.

Vehicle Protection

Tractors, quad bikes, horse-boxes and trailers are all essential for rural businesses. But, as warned by the NFU and police forces, vehicles like these are particularly attractive to criminals. Rigorous precautions should therefore be in place to ensure these valuable assets are always secure.

ground and wall anchors
Ground and Wall Anchors

 

At the end of each day all vehicles should ideally be securely locked away inside garages or other secure buildings. Keys should be removed and stored in a safe, secure location and if possible, steering wheel locks or other forms of immobilisation should be used. If any vehicles need to be left outdoors they should always be securely attached to immovable anchor points using high security chains and padlocks.

high security chains
High Security Chains

Mark and Label Assets

The farmer who has been painting the horns of his sheep green over recent years has been using a basic form of highly visible asset labelling that serves to both deter would be sheep-rustlers and identify his sheep. But there are up to date asset labelling systems available that are far more effective than a can of green paint.

All valuable assets should be labelled using indelible forensic marking. Assets that have been clearly marked and labelled are immediately less appealing to thieves as it makes them more difficult to sell-on. And if the police recover stolen items the asset labelling helps in returning them to their rightful owners. All farm GPS systems, vehicles, machinery, tools and equipment should be forensically labelled.

GPS livestock tracking systems are now available for sheep and cattle. Smart tags send signals every 15 minutes to a central livestock management dashboard enabling farmers to remotely monitor the location of their livestock at any time from any location. Systems can also be used in conjunction with geofencing to send alerts if livestock strays out of a designated area.

Prepare for the Worst - Hope for the Best

The old saying: `forewarned is forearmed` clearly applies to the warnings issued by insurers and police forces about the imminent impact of the rising cost of living on rural crime. The time to act is now. As the winter approaches it’s likely we will see a growing number of countryside crimes involving stolen fuel, vehicles, equipment, machinery and livestock. Farms and rural residents should take practical steps now to identify weaknesses and bolster their security to avoid becoming crime victims.

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If you have any questions about rural security or if you have any special requirements remember that we are here to help. Give us a call on 01273 475500 and we’ll provide you with free, expert advice.

This message was added on Thursday 11th August 2022

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