In a bid to protect farmers from repeat crime, NFU Mutual has launched a pilot scheme with manufacturers Honda and Yamaha to install free tracking devices and immobilisers on replacement quad bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
The insurer will also cover the first year’s subscription as well as install trackers and immobilisers on other brands if they meet the required standard and fitting cost.
The move came as the cost of quad bike and ATV theft remained high despite Covid-19 restrictions, with thieves getting ‘bang for their buck’ by targeting more expensive, higher specification portable items.
Concerns are also growing that criminals could become more active as lockdown measures ease.
Latest data from NFU Mutual revealed farmers footed a £3.1 million bill in 2019 for stolen quad bikes and ATVs, with ATV thefts now representing 14 per cent of all quad bike and ATV thefts compared to 11 per cent in 2019.
Noting the importance of quad bikes and ATVs on modern livestock farms, Bob Henderson, technical engineering manager at NFU Mutual, said: “We know that thieves often return to a farm where they have stolen a quad in the hope of being able to steal its new replacement.
“That is why we are working on a scheme initially with manufacturers Honda and Yamaha with Datatool to install free tracking devices and immobilisers to protect our customers from repeat crime.
“We also want to help keep farmers - who often work alone - safe. The immobiliser systems have smart technology which can raise the alarm if a machine has been impacted or rolled over.”
Earlier this month Farmers Guardian investigated why organised criminal gangs were targeting UK farms in search of smaller high value items and identified a ready resale market in the UK and abroad.
Welcoming the scheme, DC Chris Piggott, agricultural vehicle lead for the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, said: “Unfortunately the police find that once criminals know the layout of a farm they may return to steal the replacement vehicle or other goods that they have scoped out previously.
"After removal of keys, trackers and immobilisers are the most effective measures against quad theft, acting as both a deterrent and also increasing the chance of police recovering the vehicle and catching the people behind these crimes.”
To protect quads and other ATVs from thieves, NFU Mutual and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVICS) has issued the following advice:
Richard Willcox runs a 220-acre livestock farm near Highbridge in Somerset, rearing dairy heifers and a flock of 80 ewes.
He grew up in a farming family and has lived and worked on the Somerset farm for more than 30 years.
In May 2020, Mr Willcox had a quad bike stolen, almost exactly a year to the day from when one was stolen in broad daylight in May 2019.
Mr Willcox said: “My quad bike was stolen from inside the workshop on the farm overnight. They also took a strimmer, some scrap batteries and other tools from the workshop too.
“A similar incident happened the year before, but that time the quad was taken in the middle of the afternoon.
"Returning after being out for the afternoon, I found the padlock on the gate broken and the quad was gone.
"CCTV from the property opposite captured a white van leaving and entering the property and they were in and gone within just a few minutes.
“I have my suspicions that it was the same gang that returned this year. The quad is such a vital piece of kit that they must have known that I would replace it.
“Since the second theft, I have invested in a steel roller shutter on the workshop and a motion sensor inside that alerts us at the house to any movement at night. The new quad also has a tracker installed.
“The theft in 2019 occurred when I had left the farm for the afternoon and you have that thought in the back of your head each time the farm is vacant that something like that might happen again.”
Mr Willcox has also experienced cases of “cold-callers” coming to the farm to stake out what is there and, having spoken to neighbours and fellow farmers, knows that there are often sightings of suspicious vehicles in the area.
“It is unsettling to think that people might be staking out the farm and trying to work out what we have here, particularly as it’s not just a place of work but my home too," he said.
"I am sure the thieves know the layout of farms in the area and come prepared to load up quads and any other equipment they can get their hands on.
“I get cold callers coming to the farm offering to buy scrap metal, but I can tell which ones are genuine and know that the others are using it as a chance to get on site and see what is here.”
As a sole trader, Mr Willcox relied on his quad to get him out and around the farm quickly, and used it for everything from rounding up sheep to getting feed to cattle.
“I use the quad almost every day so it had a real impact on my work not having one when it was stolen, I really could not do without it,” he added.