Farms face growing crop of rural crime

FARMERS are fighting a drastic increase in rural crime with large machinery being stolen almost daily.

Norfolk police have urged farmers to be on their guard after recording 51 crimes in the first three months of 2011 when larger items were stolen, including tractors, generators, quad bikes, ride-on lawn mowers and telehandlers, mainly in the Breckland and South Norfolk areas.

Suffolk police said there had been at least 39 thefts of similar equipment over the same period just in the west of the county. A Suffolk police spokeswoman said: “Owners should keep windows covered so valuable items are not on display. Trackers and other anti-theft devices can be fitted to trailers and vehicles, and security lighting, CCTV, fencing and alarms can all deter thieves. SmartWater can be used to mark valuable equipment, and serial numbers and markings should be noted.”

A West Suffolk farmer, who did not want to be named for fear of attracting thieves’ attention, said: “Twenty years ago we would leave a tractor at the side of a drove and you might just take the key out. Now we won’t leave anything anywhere.

“I spoke with another farmer who reckons it costs him £10,000 a year having to take things back to the yard and lock them up instead of leaving them in the field.”

Even small thefts can prove costly beyond the value of what is stolen. Stolen equipment may mean staff and transport waiting while a replacement is set up.

The National Farmers’ Union’s Bury St Edmunds group secretary Andrew Ward said: “Stolen big machines are hidden and then cross county and country borders. I don’t think they’re staying in the UK.

“It is a big problem. We had a farm security meeting in Barrow Village Hall. Usually you’d get one man and his dog, but 40 people turned up.”

Mr Ward added: “Town centres have CCTV so the chances for doing things unobserved are reduced and thieves are moving out of town.”