NFU Mutual warns farmers to step up security as clocks go back

Farmers are being urged to be vigilant to avoid becoming victims of rural theft when the clocks go back, as criminals use the cover of darkness to steal from the countryside.

Farmers are being urged to be vigilant to avoid becoming victims of rural theft when the clocks go back, as criminals use the cover of darkness to steal from the countryside.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual warns that the combination of dark winter nights and fewer people out and about after dark could lead to an increase in rural theft this winter.

The warning comes as the cost of rural crime has risen to its highest level for eight years, with organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

NFU Mutual reported that rural crime in the UK totalled £54m in 2019, and the cost of rural theft has peaked in the October to December quarter for the past two years.

This year the insurer found that while some types of rural crime fell during the initial COVID-19 lockdown, rural theft is now increasing in many parts of the UK as the economic impact of the pandemic bites. The latest crime trend to hit UK farms is the theft of expensive tractor GPS systems, with incidents being carried out in night-time raids.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “The longer hours of darkness can present greater opportunities for criminal activity, particularly in remote rural areas which may not benefit from as much lighting, passing traffic or general footfall in the evenings as urban settings. With our specialists at NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd, we have prepared a winter security checklist and podcast to help farmers and other rural dwellers ensure their property is well protected to avoid becoming a victim of theft.

“While some types of rural crime fell during the early part of lockdown we’ve seen alarming rises in smaller, more portable items of kit being stolen such as tractor GPS systems, with tens of thousands of pounds worth of equipment being taken in a single night. The latest breed of criminal is using a range of tactics, often staking out farms by day to return late at night and smash into tractor cabs under the cover of darkness. The damage and disruption to agricultural activities is causing huge anxiety in the farming community and we are working with police and manufacturers to make it harder for criminals to steal from our farms and villages.”

NFU Mutual’s Risk Management Services Ltd (RMS) provides advice to farms across the UK to manage risks including rural theft.

Andy Manson, Managing Director of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd, added: “Thieves will strike at any time of year, but we do find they change their tactics as the nights draw in, targeting vulnerable outbuildings and taking advantage of bad weather when people are less likely to carry out their usual checks.

“We advise farmers to look at their farm through the eyes of a thief and start with the yard and entrance. Hinge-capped gates which can’t be lifted off and good quality chains and padlocks are the first step in securing the property. Address what you have on display in the yard and don’t give away any hints to would-be thieves of what might be inside. Also target-harden your valuable objects, this might involve creating a security cage for high-value items including tools and quads.

“It’s particularly important at this time of year to ramp up detectable measures, this can be anything from intruder alarms and security lighting to CCTV, which is a fantastic deterrent. Farmers are embracing a range of new technology involving infrared beams that relay live footage to mobile phones and set off voice warning systems.”

NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Winter Rural Security Checklist

  • Close and lock yard gates at night to deter drive-through thieves
  • Check existing lighting, alarms and cameras are working correctly and update if necessary
  • Lock outbuildings at night and carry out your usual security checks in winter
  • Avoid leaving vehicles and implements where they can be easily seen by criminals scouting for theft opportunities
  • Consider infra-red beam alarms, CCTV and floodlighting to protect farm yards
  • Store portable tools such as chain saws, jet washers and welders in a secure locked ‘cage’
  • Join a local farm watch group or WhatsApp network to keep updated about local rural crime trends and suspicious sightings
  • Mark tools, equipment and implements with your post code to deter thieves and aid recovery by police
  • Know what you own – record all makes, models and photograph kit to help police investigate and aid an insurance claim
  • Use trackers, immobilisers and CESAR-mark tractors and ATVs to deter thieves
  • Consider mechanical devices to anchor down quads
  • Remove keys when machines are not in use and store them in a secure cabinet where possible

NFU Mutual has provided £430,000 support for schemes set up to tackle rural theft this year. These include the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, which co-ordinates farm machinery theft intelligence between NFU Mutual, police forces, Border Force and Interpol.

To hear NFU Mutual’s Winter Rural Crime podcast, available from Friday 23rd October, please click and keep informed about rural crime by following @nfum on Twitter. For more information on trends and advice on how to beat rural crime, NFU Mutual’s 2020 Rural Crime report is available at

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