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29th September 2015

Crime after the Crop: Farmers Beware

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Despite the August rains both dampening and delaying proceedings, harvest 2015 yields were bountiful for many farmers across the UK.

Despite the August rains both dampening and delaying proceedings, harvest 2015 yields were bountiful for many farmers across the UK. However, as the machines are put away and the last of the crops are processed, criminals will be seeking rich pickings of their own. As the evenings begin to close in, farmers and rural landowners should take a moment to think how they are going to protect themselves as autumn approaches. Crime is a very present rural threat. According to a survey by the National Rural Crime Network, rural crime cost more than £800m in 2014 with the average farmer losing £4,000 to the criminals. Thefts, criminal damage and hare coursing are just some of the crimes that will likely blight farmers in the coming weeks and months. Rural crime is no small issue with East Anglia and the South-East being a particular hotspot for the criminals. According to a survey by NFU Mutual, Cambridgeshire and Essex were among the worst affected counties in 2014. So if you are a farmer or landowner, what you should you be aware of and how can you protect yourself this autumn? 1. Theft This is one of the most common crimes faced by farmers. At the end of harvest, farm machinery (including tractors and combine harvesters) and tools will be popular targets for thieves due to their high value and saleability. However, a range of other items such as pesticides, fuel, metal, 4x4 vehicles, building materials and livestock will also be targeted. Like in the big cities, rural crime is becoming ever more sophisticated and organised with criminal gangs taking advantage of the profits that can be made. How to protect yourself? If you have not done so already, tag your machinery and vehicles with CESAR Datatag or other tracking software and consider registering your vehicles with CESAR. Always remove keys from unattended machinery and keep it stored out of site. Modern machinery is far more difficult to steal without keys. Think about tagging and microchipping any pedigree or high value livestock. Check and heighten your security generally. Log any crimes as soon as possible with the police. Enter a Farmwatch or Neighbourhood Watch scheme. Consider installing CCTV and alarms on farm buildings where machinery is stored. 2. Arson Arson remains commonplace on farms. Although often carried out by opportunists, it can also be targeted. Attacks may continue to blight farmers this autumn as they did during the summer. Hay and straw are particular targets especially when stored near farm buildings and barns. This summer has seen a spate of attacks across the UK. One notable example was an August attack on a farm in East Yorkshire which caused £340,000 worth of damage and killed 360 pigs. How to protect yourself? Try and store hay out of site of public roads and footpaths if possible especially between now and the end of October. Avoid stacking near buildings containing other valuables or livestock. Block off major access routes to your farm and engage the help of neighbouring farmers to watch for suspicious activity. Consider installing CCTV, security lighting and alarms to your buildings. 3. Hare Coursing This is a particular prevalent crime between August and late October when coursers take advantage of the large tracts of stubble post-harvest and abundant hare numbers. Coursing is a blood sport involving the pursuit of hares using hounds and often involves the exchange of large amounts of cash in the form of bets on which hounds will catch the hares first. Despite hare coursing having been banned under the Hunting Act 2004 and fines at prosecution reaching £5,000, coursers continue to blight the countryside lured by the money to be made from the illegal betting. How to protect yourself? Ask the Country Land & Business Association or the National Farmers Union for signs to place on your farm gates and at entrances to fields. Communicate with other farmers and join a local Farmwatch scheme. Report any suspicious activity to the police using the 101 service (especially large gatherings of people, dogs and vehicles around your farm or in rural areas at dawn or dusk. If you see coursing taking place, you could be advised to dial 999. Note any registration plates of vehicles and keep a diary of the activity. If it is safe and possible to do so, take photographs or film footage which may prove useful evidence if the coursers are caught. Secure field entrances and boundaries as best as possible. Do not be tempted to take the law into your own hands. Rural crime will continue to blight farmers and rural landowners. Although it can never be guaranteed to prevent rural crime, investing some time and thought into planning preventing measures now can reduce the overall cost and impact of crime on your farm, livelihood and business. For more information please visit our Agriculture, Food & Rural Business service page or click here to email James Finch.