These days, it often seems you’ll be hard-tasked to find anyone within the rural community who hasn’t been victim, or witness, to at least some form of crime. In fact, a recent attitudes survey indicates that many farmers now feel ‘under siege’ from the rural crime phenomenon, with 47% of farmers reporting to have fallen victim at least twice in just 12 months. And the latest crime figures for 2017 show rural crime occurrences to be on the rise – so it seems this is a problem which may be here to stay. Today’s rural crime landscape is becoming increasingly diverse, covering a wide range of activities – from livestock rustling to fly-tipping; machinery theft to hare coursing; oil tank theft to vandalism. Not only this, the worrying fact is that in little over a generation, rural crime has transformed from opportunists carrying out minor thefts, to a growing organised crime unit involving highly coordinated, determined gangs.
While urban crimes are often highly publicised, the same cannot be said of rural crime; however, with even the seemingly smallest of crimes often having significant effects, rural crime can be devastating. High-value machinery is often difficult to replace swiftly, quickly putting agricultural operations at risk – costing rural businesses millions each year. In fact, in 2016 alone, rural crime cost the UK £39.2m. So, clearly the stakes are high!
Between 2000 and 2012, more than 1,000 rural police stations were closed
Rural properties are often inevitably left more vulnerable to crime than their urban counterparts. Unsuspecting home owners are often caught unawares. A lack of police funding impacts the surveillance capabilities of an already-stretch patrol force. And enhanced rural transport links enable thieves to transport stolen machinery overseas in just a matter of hours.
In the face of this, maintaining a high level of vigilance towards rural crime is crucial. With this in mind, we take a look at some key ways to protect against the rural crime ‘wave’…
Are you attracting thieves?
The first thing to do is ask whether your property looks inviting for a thief. Are there signs of security? Is your property isolated? Are your expensive vehicles, equipment, or tools on display? Asking yourself these questions should easily identify any warning signs and uncover essential areas for improvement.
As no two farms or rural businesses are the same, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to security. However, upping your security is one fairly easy way to discourage any potential thieves. For example, locked gates, high fences and secure-looking sheds and outbuildings are some simple ways to create obstacles. Similarly, while it may sound bizarre, painting expensive machinery and equipment in corporate colours can actually prove to be a good deterrent. And investing in technology systems, such as CCTV and security lighting, infra-red motion detection alarms, tracking or location devices and digital immobilisers can quickly bring your security up to scratch.
Look out for your community
With the number of farms and rural businesses falling over recent years, many of the close-knit farming communities have collapsed; and as a result, it is now easier than ever for thieves to remain undetected until it is too late. To combat this, many farming communities have started to revive traditional Farm Watch schemes to share any suspicious sightings within the community.
Protect yourself when buying machinery
Just as important as protecting your machinery from potential thieves is protecting yourself when buying any used vehicles or machinery. It is now fairly easy for organised crime units to close the identities of large, expensive tractors, making them easy to sell and harder to detect. There are some basic measures you can take, however. For example, make sure you ask the seller to provide the plant identification document when buying second hand machinery; this will contain the item’s unique identification as well as the serial number of any parts. And the same goes for hired equipment. Ensure you always get an official hire agreement which contains a full description of the vehicle or machinery, including serial numbers, as well as a guide of what to do if the equipment does get stolen.
Keep a check on your oil tanks
Oil theft is a common issue within rural areas, particularly within the first few months of the year. Implementing simple security measures – such as installing a physical security device, enclosing tanks within locked buildings or fitting an electronic tank gauge – can help make tanks less accessible to potential thieves.
More than one in four (27%) of rural crime victims don’t report their crime to the police – National Rural Crime Network Survey, 2017
Finally, one of the most important steps towards reducing rural crime rates is to report any suspicious activity as soon as you can. Failing to report rural crime creates a vicious circle; under-reporting makes rural crime figures seem lower than they actually are, which in turn reduces the likelihood of police resources being dedicated to combatting it. So, if you find yourself victim – or witness – to rural crime, make sure you report it as quickly as possible.