How to deter theft from rural farms

Rural theft is threatening the livelihoods of farmers up and down the country. Kelly Friel, Digital Product Manager at tools, DIY and security accessory supplier Zoro, offers her advice for improving security and reducing your chances of falling victim to thieves.

If you work on or own a farm, you’ll already know just how serious the ongoing problem of rural theft is becoming. Expensive agricultural equipment is an appealing prospect for thieves, and the fact that farms are almost always in remote locations far from the emergency services makes criminals more brazen in their attempts to break in.

tractor on rural farm - how to deter rural theftWith the NFU reporting that rural crime cost the UK around £44.5m in 2017 — the highest in four years — it’s clear that the problem is reaching crisis level. For many farmers, the consequences of losing vital equipment can be severe: even if your property is insured, you’ll still lose days or even weeks of work, putting your livelihood at stake.

While rural crime is an increasingly serious and prevalent problem, there are a number of ways to help protect your property and deter thieves. Many of these measures are simple to implement and relatively affordable, especially when compared to the cost of a burglary, so it’s certainly worthwhile. Here, I’ll share six ways you can protect your property from break-ins.

Analyse any weaknesses in your security

First, you’ll need to analyse your farm’s existing security set-up. Try to think about your land and property from the perspective of a potential thief: for instance, which equipment, livestock, or supplies are most valuable? Which are most vulnerable? Are there any weaknesses in your security system — like broken fences, flimsy gates, or unguarded access points — that might be appealing to a thief? By thinking about security from this point of view, you can address the most urgent problems first.

Improve locks and doors on buildings

Strong padlocks and deadbolts are essential on all doors to any buildings or storage units. You should also consider fitting covers to your padlocks to help stop thieves from cutting them open. It may also help to install SmartWater devices to prevent tampering: these spray criminals with a type of ink which can be detected under a special light, marking them as the culprit.  

Remember, even with the strongest lock, a door is only as strong as the hinges. If these are weak, a thief will find it easy to remove the door, so consider fitting reinforced or inverted hinges, which are much harder to tamper with. If a gate or door is not in use very often, you could also consider parking a vehicle or heavy object in front of it to obstruct access — bales of hay are useful for this. 

Install security cameras, alarms and lighting

When it comes to protecting your outbuildings, it’s often not enough to just have strong locks and sturdy doors: you need to make sure you have surveillance and intruder alert systems in place, too. The doors to any buildings should be alarmed, and CCTV should be in place near vulnerable spots or access points. Installing security lighting in yards and around buildings can also help to ward off thieves and alert you to any intruders.

Remember to place signage warning thieves that your property is protected by CCTV and alarm systems, preferably around the perimeter and near any public roads. Visible deterrents like these will help make any would-be intruders think that your property is going to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Take extra measures to protect vehicles

Quad bikes, fork lifts, trucks, tractors, and horse boxes are essential on many farms, but unfortunately these expensive vehicles are common targets for thieves. They have a high resale value, and if the criminal is able to start the vehicle, they’ll be able to drive right off your property, providing them with an easy getaway.

At the end of each day, all vehicles should be locked and the keys hidden in a secure location. If possible, you should also add steering and wheel locks, especially if your vehicle is stored outside. Immobilising systems — which can be used to stop a vehicle remotely if stolen — can also be very effective, and will provide an extra line of defence if a thief is able to break into your outbuildings.

Consider securing the perimeter

One the reasons thieves consider farms an easy target is because the boundaries are often open and unsecured. Installing additional fences can help to stop intruders from accessing your land, as will thick, prickly hedges. It’s also a good idea to install higher, more robust gates to help stop thieves from breaking into yards or outbuilding areas.

Most criminals will access your farm using a car or van, so think in terms of preventing vehicles from driving onto your land. Ditches can be a very effective way to stop intruders from driving onto your land, although they can be time-consuming and expensive to create.

Increasingly, many farmers are turning to more high-tech forms of security, such as geo-fencing. This uses GPS (that’s the same sort of software used in satnavs) to create a boundary, which triggers an alarm if a vehicle enters or exits your property. This can be a particularly useful option if your land is too extensive or sprawling for physical fences and hedges to be an option.

Add branding and serial numbers

Even with strong security measures in place, there’s always a chance that intruders will find a way around them, so you should take action to make it easier to recover your vehicles and machinery if they are stolen.

One of the simplest ways to do this is to brand your equipment using a unique serial number kit. For maximum effectiveness, this should be etched onto the window or into the bodywork, where it will be harder to remove. You should also take photos of your equipment and serial numbers, as these can be crucial evidence that will help the police to identify and recover your possessions if they are stolen.

Rural crime is on the rise, and it’s a major source of anxiety for many farmers. Fortunately, there are a number of measures you can take to improve security, many of which are fairly simple and reasonably affordable to implement. Take my tips on board, and you should be able to ward off intruders and protect your property.

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