SJUK Exclusive: Fighting crime in the rural darkness

October 21, 2022

With long, dark nights nearly upon us, rural areas can provide rich pickings for criminals, writes Mike Sims of The Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

While the cost of rural crime dipped slightly overall during the pandemic, indications reveal that the first quarter of 2022 has seen thieves making up for lost time.

And with the cost of living crisis biting and prices of essential farm equipment and fuel soaring, crime could rocket in the months ahead, so now is the time to act to protect homes, land and property.

The cost of agricultural vehicle theft claims stands at more than £9m a year in the UK, as organised criminal gangs target farmyards for high-value tractors, GPS systems and trailers. Quad and ATV theft cost £2m, with incidents usually peaking between September and December.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) represents thousands of farmers, landowners and rural businesses across the country. The organisation is in regular contact with police forces across England and Wales to ensure the problem of rural crime is not ignored.

We work with rural task forces, farm watch schemes and the National Rural Crime Network. We encourage farmers, land managers and landowners to record and report suspicious vehicles in their area and circulate information on how to report this information to the police.

Protect yourself

So how can you better protect yourself against becoming a victim of crime in rural areas?

Trackers and security cameras have merits, as does marking equipment with smart water. However, all of these measures only come into use once a crime has been committed.

Thieves may visit farms and sites to ‘case-the-joint’ before they make an attack, so be vigilant about who is around.

If there is a person or suspicious vehicle around then record the details of the sighting, such as date, time, location, and information about the vehicle including make, model, colour, registration number and any distinguishing marks.

Police will not arrest somebody for acting suspiciously, but if someone received contact from the police asking why they have been in the area then they may be less inclined to return.

The information you submit about the sighting may be evidence needed for a successful conviction.

So get out and about, and make regular inspections of your entire site. Information is key – speak with neighbours and the wider community to share knowledge and goings on.

Modern vehicles are difficult to start without the key, so think carefully about where you store your keys. Many people leave them on a rack beside the back door which is an ideal opportunity for thieves to reach in and help themselves. Find somewhere less obvious to store your keys but don’t make it too inconvenient as family and staff need to get into the habit of using it every time they take or return the keys.

Don’t leave keys in your vehicle, even if you park at the gate while checking stock or crops. Most coats and overalls have a zipped pocket use it.

Physical barriers

Look at ways to better secure your yard. Sensor lighting is useful and does not have to be a complicated or expensive system. Farms and estates are big places but strategic fencing and perimeter protection can act as a deterrent where valuable kit is stored. Dogs can be useful alarms.

Physical barriers such as bollards and wheel-clamps may also be appropriate. These are often over-looked as there is a time element to installing and removing them when you want to use your machinery. A few minutes on your daily routine must be worth the effort if we are to say ‘good bye’ to this unnecessary blight on rural businesses.

Fed up with being targeted by hare coursers and fly-tippers, an increasing number of farmers are digging ditches, dykes and other earthworks around their land.

The practice is seen as a simple but effective way of preventing illegal trespass, potentially saving farmers thousands of pounds from damaged crops and clean-up bills. But a word of warning; you could find yourself in breach of stewardship and basic payment rules, as ditches can be classed as watercourses.

Deter, detect, delay

When investing in security, don’t forget that the measures you choose must be proportionate to what you are protecting. So when designing your security you must assess your critical assets, the threats to them and any vulnerabilities in your existing set-up. From basic padlocks to state-of-the-art CCTV and drones with thermal imagery, your investment should not outweigh the risk.

The well-established principles of deter, detect, delay and respond should apply throughout your physical security. The perimeter of your property is naturally important. It should be well maintained, regularly inspected and clearly signed stating the property is owned, private and that any intrusions or trespassing will not be tolerated. It also needs to be illuminated at night or when people approach.

When considering the different options available to you, it is certainly time well spent exploring the latest and emerging technologies entering the market.

Extra leg work

As crime continues to evolve, and criminal enterprises and gangs becoming ever more sophisticated, companies both nationally and internationally are developing new products and services to help. And as new technology arrives on the scene, older but perfectly functioning equipment becomes more affordable.

Before deciding on your security plan, make sure you have conducted research, asked questions, spoken to your neighbours and wider network, sought professional advice and recommendations, and requested demonstrations from companies. Putting the extra leg work in at this stage should pay off in the longer term.

Rural crime is a blight on businesses and communities, and on those who can feel isolated even in normal circumstances, but there is much we can all do to better protect ourselves from becoming a victim.

For more information about the CLA and its work, visit

This article was originally published in the October 2022 edition of Security Journal UK. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

Read Next

Security Journal UK

Subscribe Now

£99.99 for each year
No payment items has been selected yet