Farmers and crofters across Scotland have been put on red alert and urged to take steps to protect their property following a spike in incidents of rural crime.
NFU Scotland (NFUS) is urging all producers to remain vigilant for criminals and to take steps to protect their businesses from both opportunistic and organised crime.
The union said rural crime remained a blight on the Scottish countryside despite efforts, both nationally and regionally, to tackle the issue with Police Scotland and other stakeholders in the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime.
“The threat of rural crime is ever present and there is a need for all who live and work in rural Scotland to remain vigilant and take steps that can help protect their livestock, property, vehicles and home,” said NFUS vice-president, Robin Traquair.
“I urge you to secure vehicles, fuel, tools and property properly, invest in trackers, and report suspicious people and vehicles to help in keeping crime at bay.”
He said the union had raised the issue in the latest edition of its membership magazine, with tips and advice from Police Scotland’s national rural crime co-ordinator, Inspector Alan Dron.
Writing in the magazine, Insp Dron said: “Criminals are getting more intuitive and using smarter technology to carry out crimes, so any steps farmers, crofters and smallholders can take to protect their property will help.”
He said some criminals were using drones, Google Earth, and traditional drive-bys to check the location of security cameras, where machinery and vehicles are stored, and if people are working on the farm or around buildings.
Insp Dron added: “They can relay this information to their partners on the ground and be in and out of a location without being noticed.”
According to Police Scotland, criminals are currently targeting quads, trailers and tractors because there is a market for them and many farmers are the victims of repeated thefts.
Insp Dron said: “Quite often the thieves can return a few weeks after the initial incident as they know there will be a new replacement vehicle on site that is there for the taking. We do record several repeat offences.”
Farmers and crofters are advised to personalise their vehicles and machinery to help with identification and recovery in the event of a theft, as well as making notes of vehicle identity numbers (VINs), distinguishing or unique features, and taking photos of equipment.
Insp Dron said: “The more information you can share with the police the better. Based on a farmer’s description, we recovered a tractor which had been shipped overseas that still had the rightful owner’s furry dice and stickers in the cab.
“If you have a dent or anything added to the vehicle that’s personal then record that; it all helps.”
He urged farmers and crofters to report any crime or suspicious behaviour to 101, or contact 999 is a crime is under way, and to take note of things like vehicle registrations.
Insp Dron added: “The more intelligence we have, the more likely we are to complete the jigsaw and track criminals down. Working together we can help protect rural Scotland against crime.”