FARMERS are being urged to step up security to prevent rural theft as the evenings draw ever shorter.
The warning comes after clocks were put back at the weekend, leaving longer periods of darkness, and greater opportunities for crime.
Police are asking farmers to take a 'farm security stock check', which includes checking CCTV and alarms, locking up valuable tools, parking machinery in a secure place, and removing keys from machinery and equipment.
DUP Councillor Keith Kerrigan has echoed the PSNI's call, and has urged vigilance among the farming community.
Supt Brian Kee, from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said: "The nights are drawing in and police are asking farmers to carry out a farm security stock check to ensure their property and livestock are secure. Rural crime severely impacts the farm business, and Police want to remind farmers to be vigilant at this time of year.
"We continue to work as part of the Rural Crime Partnership to support the rural community by preventing and detecting crime. It is important that we all work together to make the countryside safer for everyone.
"Reporting promptly to the police any activity that raises your suspicions is a good way to initiate our investigation and will help to deter criminals and reduce crime in your area. Preventing crime and being switched on to crime prevention will help to protect your property. Don't make life easy for the criminals.
"If you notice any suspicious activity please call Police on 101 or 999 in an emergency. Also information in relation to rural crime or criminals can be reported to Police or to the anonymous charity CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111."
Councillor Kerrigan said farmers can often become complacent when it comes to securing equipment.
"Undoubtedly, local farmers, and indeed people in rural areas, must ensure that they are taking the appropriate steps to ward of thieves," he said. "It's the simple things that everyone knows about, but don't always carry out. Things such as keeping your doors and windows locked, getting trailers marked, and locking things up can go a long way.
"In recent years, we have seen a marked increase in rural crime incidents in Castlederg and the surrounding areas. As the evenings become darker, the opportunity for criminal behaviour becomes greater. Steps must be taken to ensure property is safe and secure.
"A farmer may have a piece of equipment, such as an old tractor, sitting around that isn't insured or secured. Machinery such as a tractor can be worth several thousand of pounds, regardless of age or condition, and are worth money criminals.
"I understand that insuring farm vehicles can be expensive - for example, a quad is more expensive to insure than a telehandler, simply because they are easier to steal - but having insurance grants piece of mind. So to does ensuring appropriate security steps are taken. Don't give thieves an easy opportunity to steal something under the cover of darkness.
"I would urge individuals to be vigilant in own area, and to keep an eye for anything out of the ordinary. In the area we have a local neighbourhood policing team, with six local officers and a sergeant. Get to know them and give them a ring if something is suspicious and doesn't add up.
"Furthermore, DFI must keep the street lights working. It's all well and good living in the middle of a park, but if there are six or seven street lights out and the place is dull, this is going to be an attractive location for thieves. A well-lit area is a big deterrent."
NFU Mutual, the UK's leading rural insurer, warn that the longer hours of darkness can present opportunities for criminal activity, particularly in remote rural areas which may not benefit from as much lighting, passing traffic or general footfall in the evenings as urban settings.
Martin Malone, Northern Ireland Manager for NFU Mutual, said: "Thieves will strike at any time of year, but we do find they change their tactics as the nights draw in, targeting vulnerable outbuildings and taking advantage of bad weather when people are less likely to carry out their usual checks. With our specialists at NFU Mutual Risk Management Services Ltd, we have prepared a winter security checklist and podcast to help farmers and other rural dwellers ensure their property is well protected to avoid becoming a victim of theft.
"We advise farmers to look at their farm through the eyes of a thief and start with the yard and entrance. Hinge-capped gates which can't be lifted off and good quality chains and padlocks are the first step in securing the property. Address what you have on display in the yard and don't give away any hints to would-be thieves of what might be inside. Also target-harden your valuable objects, this might involve creating a security cage for high-value items including tools and quads."