With rural crime seemingly on the increase, prevention is better than cure. Security of farms, buildings and machinery within the countryside has notoriously been lax, but with some simple devices, the chances of intruders entering premises unhindered can be reduced.
Insurance company NFU Mutual states its theft claim figures reveal that rural crime cost the UK £54.3 million in 2019, an increase of nearly 9 per cent on the previous year, making it the highest cost recorded in eight years.
It adds that for the second year running, thieves targeted high-value tractors, quads and other farm vehicles, driving the sharp rise in value of thefts. Livestock theft also increased in 2019, with organised gangs taking large numbers of sheep, which are thought to be entering the food chain illegally.
Charles Naylor, Herefordshire’s designing out crime officer, who works within the police force’s wider security intitiative, Secured by Design, says farm security should be like an onion with layers of deterrence to prevent and reduce the opportunity presented to would be thieves.
“The first layer of prevention is not on its farm itself, but the wider area. With many farms being rural, signage on the sides of roads and junctions stands out well and puts that element of doubt into the perpetrator’s mind at the earliest opportunity. Nationally, there are many schemes that are running to help with the problem, but locally we have been running ‘Smartwater’ and ‘Stop that Thief’ campaigns that have prominent signage on the approach to villages and farm entrances.
“The next step is to address the farm entrance. All farms are different and there is no set guidance on the best way to protect them. Some very open entrances work well as thieves are deterred by the lack of cover. Others, especially down lanes, work best with signs detailing the security measures in place, like CCTV or random patrols,” he adds.
Whatever the situation, physical barriers such as tall fences, gates and barricades that require an effort to break through the entrance will most likely put the opportunist thief off, he says.
The hardware that can help to protect is wide ranging and comes at a variety of price points says Mr Naylor, however, Mark Bishop of Mark Bishop Fire and Security says the reliability of systems is key.
“The last thing farmers want is a series of false alarms, as that is when frustration sets in and the systems get turned off, leaving farms vulnerable,” says Mr Bishop. “Conversely, there is no point in having a system that does not go off because it has stopped working after installation. Buying a quality system and having it installed properly is paramount.
“Multiple layers of security is the best way of protecting a farm and using a mix of deterrents; signage, visible CCTV, discreet beam alarms connected to lights or other appliances that will startle, decent locks and padlocks, even those that emit a noise when tampered with will all help to prevent thefts.
“When discovering a potential break in, immediately notify the police. In addition, having the latest generation of CCTV that alerts you to intruders by sending a message is useful when involving the police as you can relay a live description of what is happening without a confrontation occurring. It is important to paint the picture of what is developing and trying to get a response as the police are more likely to respond to live event with the chance of catching them in the act than after the event,” says Mr Naylor.
“CCTV has come along way in recent years and the latest generation of systems use analytics to detect if farmyard animals are wondering around or people and vehicles, sending a message to the owner if it believes it is the latter,” adds Mr Bishop.
He adds that CCTV is still one of the most effective ways of identifying thieves after the event, but any system needs to have a record function and checked regularly that it is doing so.
Mr Bishop says: “Beam alarms are a very effective way of ascertaining if there is an intruder. Set at a height that will allow wildlife and dogs to go under undetected, depending on the complexity of the model they can be programmed to send an alert if a vehicle or person breaks the beam, or trigger flood lights, strobes or sirens, which more often than not are enough to startle and deter the criminal.
“Not only are beam alarms effective on perimeters, but also set up in open fronted barns and behind doors, alerting you if an intruder has accessed your buildings,” he adds.
Mr Naylor says lighting is one of the best ways to deter criminals as typically they like to operate in the dark, so wiring systems that are automatically activated are an effective deterrent.
In addition, Mr Naylor says tannoy systems in the yard that can be used when an intruder is spotted is also a sure way to make them turn heel.
The third layer of security Mr Naylor advises to use is corralling all equipment into a central location. For tractors and machinery that might be into a locked shed, but for smaller items like hand and power tools, GPS receivers and even quads, having a strong room on the farm can be advantageous.
This can take many forms, including a shipping container with in a shed or a cage. Mr Naylor says with a decent padlock, thieves rarely like spending too much time in one location, trying to break a padlock, due to fear of being discovered from the noise involved in cutting or breaking it apart.
An extra layer of security for power tools that are an easily traded commodity for the thief, is to identity mark them. Like wise for fence energisers, chainsaws, pressure washers and lawn mowers using a soldering iron to inscribe the farm’s name and post code can put them off.
A more aesthetically pleasing method available is Cremark overt marking, that uses a marker pen to write the details and subsequently sprayed with a lacquer that is near impossible to remove, says Mr Naylor.
In addition, Smartwater type discreet marking can be used, but it does not have the same visual deterrent, however, can be used to repatriate stolen items with their rightful owner if discovered at a later date.
Mr Naylor also advocates the use of small GPS tracking devices that can be discreetly fitted into certain tools. Most are the size of a £2 coin or large postage stamp, so easy enough to hide in tool housings.