Farming News - Dark nights security warning as clocks go back

Dark nights security warning as clocks go back

Rural crime totalled £43.3 million last year – as thieves changed tactics over the pandemic to target high-value GPS systems & smaller machinery as diesel, heating oil & fertiliser also come under threat.

Farmers and other rural dwellers 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.

NFU Mutual, the UK’s leading rural insurer, warns that the combination of dark winter nights and fewer people out and about after dark could lead to an increase in rural crime this winter. 

The warning comes as organised criminal gangs continue to target farms in overnight raids for expensive GPS systems and quad bikes. In some cases thieves, who already know the layout of farms, are targeting victims of theft a second time.

Shortages and sharp rises in the cost of diesel, heating oil and fertiliser are also raising the risk of vital supplies becoming top targets for rural thieves this winter.

NFU Mutual reported that the cost of rural theft in the UK fell by 20 per cent to £43.3m in 2020 as lockdown measures helped keep thieves out of the countryside. However, in recent years (2018 and 2019), the cost of rural theft peaked from October to December and there are increasing concerns thieves are becoming more active as they are able to move more freely again.

Robin Till, of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd, said: “The longer nights and inclement weather means criminals can move around farmyards and rural properties more easily without being noticed.  

“Now is a good time of year to step up security and assess how you have set out your stall. Are your entrance and exit points secure, and are there expensive items on display? Could you target-harden valuable items with multiple layers of security?

“While thieves like the cover of darkness, they hate anything that will announce their arrival so intruder alarms, security lighting and systems which send alerts and CCTV footage to mobile phones are good deterrents.

“Thieves target anything they can sell on for a profit, which is why we are urging farmers to secure stocks of fertiliser and their diesel and heating oil tanks as prices soar.

“These thefts cause disruption and huge anxiety in the farming community and we want to work together 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 and has produced a farm winter rural security checklist:

  • Close and lock yard gates at night to deter drive-through thieves
  • Lock outbuildings at night and carry out regular security checks during colder months
  • Ensure security lighting, intruder alarms and cameras are working correctly
  • Avoid leaving vehicles and implements where they can be easily seen from near-by roads by criminals searching for theft opportunities
  • Never leave keys in machines when not in use
  • Remove GPS systems where possible and lock them in a secure place overnight
  • Store diesel and heating oil in tanks away from the public gaze and consider a fuel tank alarm
  • Store fertiliser in a secure building
  • 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 to deter thieves and aid recovery by police
  • Use tracking devices, immobilisers and CESAR-marking on tractors and quadbikes to deter thieves
  • Consider mechanical devices to anchor down quads
  • ‘Know what you own’ - record all makes, models, serial numbers and photograph kit to help police investigate and aid an insurance claim

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.

For more information on trends and advice on how to beat rural crime, NFU Mutual’s 2021 Rural Crime report is available at