UK farmers resorting to ‘medieval’ methods to repel thieves

Police helping farmers build earthworks as low-cost defence against wave of rural crime

Lavender farm
Farmers harvesting lavender in Banstead
(Image credit: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Desperate farmers are erecting medieval-style defences on their land in an attempt to stem a growing tide of rural crime in the UK.

Earthen embankments, stockades and ditches, used as fortifications since the Middle Ages, have sprung up on farms around the country aimed at deterring livestock “rustlers” and thieves who target valuable farm machinery.

Sparsely-populated and generally without CCTV cameras, rural areas present unique difficulties for effective crime-solving in comparison with urban areas.

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The challenges of rural policing have been exacerbated by more recent strains on police budgets nationwide, leading to a spike in countryside crime as thieves take advantage of overstretched police forces.

According to insurance firm NFU mutual, “£45 million worth of rural theft was committed across the UK in 2017”, Devon Live reports, a rise of 13.4% from 2016.

Quad bikes and other all-terrain vehicles were the most targeted items, followed by farming tools and machinery such as tractors.

Theft is not the only illegal activity costing UK farmers money. “Activities such as hare coursing and fly-tipping can also be devastating to farmers, injuring livestock and contaminating the environment,” says The Guardian.

NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist Tim Price told the website that criminals are becoming “brazen”, often striking repeatedly. “Farmers and country people are turning to history books to re-purpose security measures from medieval times,” he said.

The BBC reports that in Gloucestershire, police officers have been helping local landowners dig trenches and earth-banks to stop criminal gangs from driving 4x4 vehicles onto farmland to carry out their raids.

As well as centuries-old land defences, farmers are also experimenting with non-traditional deterrents, including llamas.

The South American pack animals let out a distinctive screech when disturbed, acting as a four-legged burglar alarm.

Social media is also an increasingly important for UK farmers, who use platforms such as Facebook to share information about thefts and warn others in the area.

A spokesman for the Home Office said the the Government has pledged to increase the policing budget by £460m this year, of which £280m will be given directly to individual forces to spend on local priorities, including rural crime.

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