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Improvements in property security over the past 50 years have made it far more difficult for thieves to get into our homes. But this improvement has prompted criminals to target what they can find in our gardens. In this post we take a look at what criminals are looking for and provide some useful garden security advice.
While the COVID pandemic has resulted in a significant decrease in burglaries, it has been reported that 9 in 10 household thefts occur ‘outside the dwelling’ - and numbers are rising.
A burglary in the UK takes place every 106 seconds with around 38% taking place during the day. Almost 50% of crimes are opportunist burglaries and 64.1% were carried out while someone was at home. The average value of stolen items is reported to have been around £2856 per household.
A report from London describes how two criminals would drive around housing estates during the early hours of Sunday mornings, stealing hanging baskets, potted plants and garden ornaments from outside peoples homes. They would then sell these stolen items, the very same day, at car boot sales. It’s reported that they were highly organised, equipping their van with rails on which they were able to hang up to 70 hanging baskets. When the police eventually caught them in the act it was estimated they were making around £1000 at each car boot sale and were stealing hanging baskets, plants and garden ornaments to order.
In a particularly extreme example a lady noticed what she thought were removal men, clearing the contents of her neighbour’s house, so she made them tea. Although she thought it was odd that removals were taking place while the homeowners were on holiday, she assumed this was how it had been arranged. But when the homeowners returned from their vacation it was discovered that every room in the house had been stripped of it`s contents, including the lightbulbs. And the criminals had even dismantled the greenhouse, dug up the roses from their garden and taken most of the shed contents.
While these reports are quite extreme there are many reports of people losing plants and other garden items to opportunist criminals who will steal anything they can potentially resell. For example, a potted Acer and a potted Salix Helvetica were stolen from the side of a house during the night while the occupants were sleeping. And in another case, homeowners woke to find their newly turfed lawn had been rolled up and taken away.
Potted plants, garden furniture and ornaments are popular targets for thieves. One homeowner reports how they lost a beautiful metal garden bench which had been securely padlocked to an immovable concrete base in their garden. Thieves removed the locks with bolt cutters and stole the bench while the owners were watching television.
Car boot sales have exploded in popularity over recent years and while the majority of sellers are honest these regular events can provide criminals with a quick and easy way to resell their stolen booty. As was demonstrated in the previously noted case in which organised criminals were stealing hanging baskets and selling them the same day at car boot sales, thieves are on the look out for easily targeted items they can turn into cash quickly and easily.
Potted shrubs and trees are commonly targeted as they look great on a car boot stall and plants are sometimes stolen to order. Most commonly targeted varieties include Bays, Black Bamboo, Citrus, Hollies, Japanese Maples, Palms and Bonsai plants. Pot plants like these are normally taken from the front of properties, generally during the night, but criminals are also known to lift these valuable plants over rear and side fences and gates.
Statues, sculptures and garden ornaments (including gnomes) are also popular targets for criminals who know there is high demand. Large, heavy sculptures, statues and garden ornaments have even been stolen to order using specialist vehicles and lifting equipment.
As noted in the previous crime report, hanging baskets are a firm favourite with opportunist burglars. These tend to be taken from the front of properties where the baskets are prominently displayed and easy to reach.
It should be noted that plant theft isn’t restricted to pot plants. Trees and shrubs such as Phormiums, New Zealand Tree Ferns and others that are newly planted can attract the attention of criminals. It`s often obvious to thieves that a plant has been recently planted, making it easy to dig up again. And newly laid turf can also attract criminal attention.
Ponds and water features are popular with gardeners and with criminals who like to steal fish (especially Koi carp), water feature pumps and the variety of ornaments that often surround garden ponds.
Garden furniture can be very expensive which is one of the reasons why it`s popular with criminals. Ornamental plant boxes, barrels and other containers are also popular targets that can be lifted into the back of a van in no time at all.
And the variety of valuable items often stored inside insecure garden buildings, including bicycles, lawnmowers, garden tools, electrical tools and more, are also extremely attractive to criminals. It should be noted that criminals will sometimes use the tools and ladders found in a shed or garage to break into the house.
It`s likely that, as the COVID pandemic subsides, diminished crime rates will sadly escalate. So what can you do to protect your garden and outdoor spaces from becoming crime scenes?
It`s important to pay special attention to your perimeter security. A property that presents a formidable boundary is far less appealing to opportunist criminals than another that’s clearly weak.
Make certain that all boundary walls, fences and hedges are in good repair. You might like to consider planting prickly, defensive plants such as Firethorn (Pyracantha) or Holly (Ilex Agulfolium) which act as a strong deterrent to would-be garden intruders.
Make certain there are no concealed areas around your perimeter where thieves can work unseen and consider installing anti-climb protection which is another excellent deterrent.
Gravel drives and pathways make it impossible for someone to approach your property without making a noise. In addition, motion triggered security lighting is another excellent precaution that will deter many night-time plant thieves. And motion sensitive CCTV systems that provide immediate alerts have become very affordable.
When using a CCTV system it`s important to post warning notices around your property which also act as powerful intruder deterrents.
It`s important to be aware of the value of what you are storing in your shed, garage or outbuildings. The cost of replacing items stored in outbuildings is often far higher than is realised by those who are unfortunately targeted by criminals.
It`s worth taking a few moments to think about what you are storing, what it would cost to replace it and what you are currently doing to protect it. Bicycles, lawnmowers, garden furniture, ladders and expensive electrical tools are often stored in outbuildings. And criminals must be prevented from laying their hands on equipment, such as garden and woodworking tools, that can potentially be used to break into the home.
Sheds and outbuildings must be robustly constructed with all doors and windows rigorously secured. Property stored inside should be security marked to enable ownership to be verified. Garden tools, for example, might be engraved with the property post code and house number.
Valuable items, such as bicycles or ride-on mowers, should not only be locked inside secure buildings, they should also be securely attached to immovable anchor points that prevent them from being taken, even if the building is accessed.
And it`s wise to consider the installation of appropriate alarm systems around outbuildings.
As noted, garden theft is often an opportunist crime wherein the thief spots something they know they can immediately sell for easy cash. Potted plants are one of their favoured targets that are often easily and quickly lifted into the back of their vehicle.
Large, heavy plant pots make theft far more difficult and immediately deter those looking for easy targets. While they can make it difficult to move potted plants around the garden this is a minor inconvenience compared to the cost of losing valuable plants - and pots.
Chaining potted plants together is another tactic that’s known to have prevented criminals from stealing valuable plants. Another successful anti-theft tactic is to bolt plant pots to the surface on which they are standing. If they are standing on a concrete surface they can be securely bolted in place using concrete bolts and if they are on stands they can be bolted to the stands making it very difficult for a criminal to easily carry them away.
As noted, hanging baskets are a favourite target for criminals who know there is huge demand on the black market. They are typically stolen from the front of homes and commonly from the front of pubs, shops and buildings that face directly onto the street.
One effective anti-theft deterrent is to thread galvanised steel wire through the baskets and their supporting chains and firmly attaching it to the supporting bracket. Another option is to consider using specially designed anti-theft hanging baskets which include a robust, central steel rod that’s padlocked to the supporting bracket.
As noted, criminals are on the lookout for tell-tale signs indicating trees and shrubs have recently been planted. Typically, the soil around the plant is freshly disturbed and the plant labels are often left in place.
Importantly, remove the plant labels from newly planted trees and shrubs and cover the earth around them with bark or a top dressing that conceals the freshly turned earth.
Plant anchors are another security method that might be considered, especially for expensive, specimen plants. These use high tensile steel cables, looped around the base of the plant and attached to an immovable ground anchor. Larger specimen plants are sometimes secured in place using multiple plant anchors
Garden statues and sculptures can sometimes cost thousands of pounds and many are unique, irreplaceable artworks. Organised criminal gangs are known to be specifically targeting statues and sculptures which are often stolen to order.
It`s always a good idea to keep the value of outdoor sculptures and statues secret and not publicise the fact you have attractive, expensive garden ornamentation via social media. Items in the front of a property should always be located where they can be clearly seen and shouldn’t be in concealed locations from which they can be easily stolen.
Where possible, valuable sculptures and statues should be firmly fixed in place, possibly by bolting them to a concrete base. Alternatively, plant anchors might be used. High value items can be protected with alarms and CCTV is another valuable security option often used to protect valuable outdoor artwork.
Another important consideration is to make certain all valuable statues, sculptures and garden ornaments are permanently security marked enabling them to be traced back to you. It`s also important to take some photographs of statues and sculptures next to a rule or yardstick to show the size of the items. And its also worth talking to your insurance company to ensure valuable outdoor artworks are adequately covered.
If you keep Koi Carp or other valuable fish, garden security is essential. It is possible to microchip valuable fish in the same way that pet dogs and cats are microchipped. It`s also sensible to photograph the fish to aid identification if they are stolen. Posting a notice near your pond stating that all fish have been microchipped will be enough to deter most would-be fish rustlers.
Installing a locked grill shield over the pond is another valuable protection measure. This feature also makes ponds much safer for small children.
Sadly, many people fail to take garden security seriously until it`s too late. They can find themselves facing expensive losses and damage, thanks to criminals.
It`s worthwhile checking what your home insurance policy covers in the garden as there are often limits on how much cover is provided. For example, the impact of weather damage in the garden may not be covered to the same extent as damage to the home. Also, specific items in the garden might be excluded, such as special plants. It`s always a good idea to talk to your insurer to make certain you have the cover you need.
If you have any questions about what you can do to protect your garden 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 free, expert advice.
This message was added on Thursday 12th May 2022
Need Help or Advice?
Call the Insight team
01273 475 500