Better safe than sorry
Helen Babbs considers how to keep your smallholding protected
Would you rather:
(a) your polytunnel was vandalised?
(b) your free-range turkeys were stolen?
(c) your sheep strayed onto the road and caused a traffic accident?
They’re all events that smallholders understandably hope never happen to them. But it’s also possible to do a great deal to prevent such farm security problems, or at least mitigate their impact.
Under lock & key
The simplest way to guard against theft from your smallholding is make sure there’s nothing to steal. Keep hand tools, barrows and trolleys, and small power tools in a locked tool shed, ideally without a window. Fasten any equipment that doesn’t fit in a shed, such as ladders, to a secure ring or post with a chain and padlock. If you have a quad-bike, ride-on mower, or small tractor, this should also be locked into a tractor shed or garage. Fitting a wheel clamp when it’s not in use will give extra security.
Always use high-quality padlocks from a reputable manufacturer. Padlocks with a 13mm-diameter shackle are the most secure, as they’re harder to cut through. If the padlock is going to be used outdoors, it’s well worth paying a little extra for a weatherproof model. It’s important to check and oil your padlocks at least every six months, so they stay in full working order.
Shut the gate
Simply having a closed gate on your smallholding driveway is a good deterrent for petty thieves and vandals, who prefer to make an easy entrance and getaway. If you have valuable and more easily stolen livestock, such as Christmas turkeys, locking up at night is a good idea too. There are highly complex electronic gates that can be operated by remote control or a smartphone, but most smallholders won’t need to go to such lengths. A chain and padlock, or a solid metal farm gate with a bolt and padlock will usually suffice.
Field gates, particularly those onto public roads, should be secured when your livestock is out in the field. Both sides of the gate need to be fastened, either with a chain or by inverting one of the hinges, so thieves can’t simply lift the gate off at the hinge end.
It’s best to use a 13mm or thicker diameter chain as this can’t readily be cut through, although it is more expensive. Fences and hedges should also be kept in a good, impenetrable condition, so the gate can’t simply be side-stepped. For fences, consider including a strand or two of barbed wire as an extra deterrent.
If you have a public right of way, such as a footpath, across your land, this can be fitted with a gate, but the gate cannot legally be locked. If this proves to be a problem, it may be worth fencing off the path or bridleway as a separate strip of land.
Knowing exactly when you have visitors arriving on your smallholding is a good way to be sure they’re not the unwanted sort. The traditional farmyard guard of a noisy dog or gaggle of geese can still be effective, but isn’t 100% failsafe, nor always popular if you have near neighbours!
A more discrete option is to install an electronic driveway alarm. These use a passive infra-red beam across the driveway, from a transmitter unit often concealed in a fake bird box! When the beam is broken by a person or vehicle passing through, a remote alarm is triggered, either in a receiver box in your house, which can be up to 800m away, or for more sophisticated alarms, on your smartphone. Alarms can be battery-powered, solar-powered or wired into mains electricity, and range in price from under £200 for a DIY kit to over £500 for a professionally installed set-up.
To keep a closer eye on the most valuable or at-risk points on your holding, such as your barn yard, it may be worth installing a CCTV system. These typically use motion-sensitive cameras, so you don’t record hours of blank footage, and connect via wifi to your computer or smartphone. Cameras can be inside or out; in the barn, they can double for livestock surveillance, saving on night-time trips to check up at lambing time! With advances in micro-technology, CCTV is no longer quite so expensive: DIY systems are available from £350 and upwards.
If you run a business on your smallholding, the cameras can’t be concealed, and you must display a warning sign. You also have to notify the Information Commissioner’s Office (www.ico.org.uk) annually that your business has CCTV installed.
A simpler form of surveillance is to join a local Farm Watch group. Like suburban neighbourhood watch schemes, local farmers and residents share information about crimes and suspicious activity with each other and the police, usually via a WhatsApp or other social media group.
The opposite of having your property stolen is having someone else’s rubbish dumped on your land. Fly-tipping is a distinct crime in itself and has sadly increased as municipal recycling sites have been closed or limited. Again, keeping gates locked and fences well maintained will help, as fly-tippers prefer to get off public roads and out of sight before dumping. If one point on your smallholding is consistently targetted, installing a concealed, high-quality wildlife camera at the site may help. A recording of a vehicle registration plate and a recognisable face is all the police need for a successful conviction.
No matter how careful you are, crime does sometimes happen. Having your smallholding insured will help mitigate the financial impact. Smallholdings can be complex for insurance firms, being a cross between a farm and a domestic property. It’s best to look for one of the various specialist smallholding insurers who will fully understand what cover you need. A typical policy will cover damage and theft of equipment, livestock, and farm buildings & contents. You’ll need to check the specifics, as what is eligible can vary – for example, some insurers will include polytunnels, while others consider them temporary! Most insurers now offer online tailored quote forms, so it’s possible to get detailed quotes from several firms, in order to choose the best policy for you.
Insurance is also important to protect yourself from claims against your smallholding, which can be just as devastating. While no one wishes to cause harm or damage from their holding, accidents such as sheep escaping onto the road can cause a lot of damage, for which you are then liable. A good insurance policy should cover you for public liability claims against you, your animals and any employees causing third-party injury, property loss or damage. If you’re selling produce from your smallholding, you may also want product liability insurance to cover against any claims arising from your goods.
Both public and product liability insurance are compulsory if you are attending a Farmers’ Market or agricultural show. If you have more than your immediate family working on your smallholding, you’re legally required to have Employers Liability insurance, in case of injuries. This applies for paid staff, volunteers and trainees.
Reporting a crime
• Call the police to report crime on 101, or 999 in an emergency (ie, if criminals are still in action)
• Be sure to get a crime reference number
• or call the NFU Rural Crime hotline on 0800 783 0137 to give information 100% anonymously
For more general smallholder content, see here