‘Under siege’ farmers dig ditches to keep criminals out as cost of rural crime doubles
- Credit: Ian Burt
'Under siege' Norfolk farmers are digging ditches and building earth mounds around their land to keep out criminals as the cost of rural crime has doubled in just a year.
Others are using technology that triggers alerts to their smart phones if equipment goes beyond their boundaries, in a bid to foil increasingly determined gangs.
Rural insurer NFU Mutual revealed the scale of the problem today in its 2019 Rural Crime Report.
It shows rural crime cost Norfolk more than £1,357,500 last year, double the previous year.
And Norfolk Police are urging farmers to explore extra security measures as they ramp up their response.
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NFU Mutual said the sharp rises were being driven mainly by high-value thefts of tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles.
Patrick Verrell, NFU Mutual senior agent in Swaffham, said: "Fear of crime is changing life in the countryside.
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"From constant reports of thefts and suspicious vehicles touring the countryside and rural criminals regularly staking out farms, country people feel they are under siege."
Mr Verrell added "limited police resources and repeat attacks" are the biggest fears for rural communities.
"Farmers are combining modern technology with physical fortifications to try and keep one step ahead of the thieves," he said. "Together with digging ditches and putting up earth banks to prevent criminals getting on to farm land, we're seeing electronic devices like infra-red beams which send alerts to mobile phones and geo-fencing, which triggers an alarm if tractors go beyond farm boundaries. These technologies are proving to be effective weapons in the fight against rural crime.
"This is increasingly important because today's determined thieves come armed with battery-powered angle grinders which can cut through chains and padlocks in seconds to access farm buildings and tool sheds."
Sgt Danny Leach, of the rural crime community safety neighbourhood policing team, said the force was seeing "a significant amount" of sheep rustling.
"We have had two recent incidents where a quantity has been taken, and a little while ago there was a group going around Suffolk and hit Norfolk as well," he said.
Around 100 lambing ewes were stolen from a farm at East Tuddenham in January.
Sgt Leech said: "The benefit of Norfolk is we are quite out on a limb, and if you come into the county you have to get back out again. When we look at hare coursing people travel quite a distance to do it. Once a vehicle is seen they have to get back out of the county."
Sgt Leach said another issue was illegal metal detecting.
"We get people in the middle of the night digging up farm fields," he said. "There are rules in place if you ask the farmer and if you find anything it is shared. Some people don't want to do that, which is why we get quite a bit of illegal activity.
"Our drones will help in that regard when we put them up at night because we can see quite a few fields away. Even with hare coursing or poaching that capability has really advanced us. You do not need to deploy half as many staff.
"We have got dedicated rural crime beat managers in certain parts of the county now. They can look at where incidents are happening across the whole district and will link up with the other beat managers so we get a much better understanding.
"We pick up on trends a lot quicker and can focus our resources."
Sgt Leach added investment in more security could help prevent "opportunist" thieves.
"If it takes more than a few minutes they are going to give up because it increases their chance of getting caught," he said.
"Just make things harder for opportunist criminals to achieve what they are trying to do.
"That could just be making sure you lock up your gates or limit access points.
"Some vehicles like tractors are really expensive and GPS trackers are relatively cheap.
"Make sure you record all your serial numbers on trailers or etch your postcode somewhere discreet.
"Also take photos of all your property so you can identify them if we do stop someone."
Police have rolled out a new app - what3words - which helps pinpoint exact locations in rural areas.
Sgt Leach recommended rural farmers make use of the app.
"It is all about crime prevention, but if something is happening you can get relevant information straight to our control room so we can pinpoint it straight away," he said.
"It gives us more of a chance to catch them trying to escape."