N Ireland farmers 'turning properties into fortresses against serial thieves'
Farmers across Northern Ireland are being forced to turn their properties into fortresses to protect themselves from serial thieves, it has been claimed.
And fear of having their farms staked out by criminals is causing major anxiety for people living in rural areas.
The warnings come as a new report shows that rural crime cost £2.5m in Northern Ireland last year.
While this is a 15% reduction from £3m in 2015, the report authors, NFU Mutual, said countryside criminals continue to become more brazen and farmers are now having to continually increase security and adopt new ways of protecting their equipment.
"In some parts of the region, farmers are having to turn their farmyards into fortresses to protect themselves from repeated thieves who are targeting quads, tractors and power tools.
"They are using tracking devices on tractors, video and infra-red surveillance in their farm yards and even DNA markers to protect sheep from rustlers," said Martin Malone, NFU Mutual regional manager for Northern Ireland.
The items most commonly targeted by thieves across Northern Ireland over the last 12 months were ATV (All Terrain Vehicles) and quad bikes, livestock and tools.
The report reveals that being "staked out" is the biggest worry for country people, followed closely by longer police response times in rural areas.
"The threat of becoming a victim of rural crime, and regular reports of suspicious characters watching farms is causing high levels of anxiety amongst farmers who know their rural location makes them vulnerable to attacks," said Mr Malone.
He added: "Our advice to people living and working in the countryside is to regularly evaluate your current security measures, making improvements where necessary, remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the local police and local farm watch schemes."
The PSNI said agriculture crime represented 1.8% of all burglary, robbery and theft offences last year.
Superintendent Brian Kee, the PSNI's lead for rural and wildlife crime, said police understand the impact crime against the farming community has on farmers, their families, farm workers, businesses and the wider rural community.
"We are committed to working with partner agencies and voluntary groups to ensure a high standard of prevention and detection of criminal activity in rural areas," he added.