A FARMER says heartless thieves have become a “nightmare” as he battles to protect his property.

Peter Fairs told the Gazette he has had to watch on helplessly as four men clad in balaclavas and armed with an iron bar raided his workshop in the past.

The issue remains a “constant concern” for the agricultural expert as opportunist thieves target expensive machinery and red diesel from his farm in Great Tey.

It comes as figures released on Tuesday reveal rural thefts across Essex last year totalled an estimated £1.65 million, with the county the second worst-affected by cost in the UK.

And the cost of rural theft nationwide rose by more than 40 per cent in the first quarter of this year as burglars returned to the countryside, according to insurance firm NFU Mutual.

Braintree and Witham Times: Nightmare issue - Peter Fairs is concerned about burglars targeting his farmNightmare issue - Peter Fairs is concerned about burglars targeting his farm

“The problem with farming is you’ve got big expensive machinery and sometimes you have to leave it in a field because you can’t drive it back to the farmyard in the dark,” explained Mr Fairs.

“We block gateways when we’re not using them and have spent a lot of money on barriers to stop people getting in. All our machinery, when stored, is protected by earth bunds.”

The veteran farmer said he is often having fuel tanks snatched but is left with no other choice than to watch on when being targeted, adding: “It’s a huge problem.

He continued: “I’m getting older now and if the alarm goes off and I check the camera, I wouldn’t go out and tackle them.

Braintree and Witham Times: Target - farms make for an 'easy opportunity' for criminalsTarget - farms make for an 'easy opportunity' for criminals

“I’ve seen a big fella guarding the door of my workshop while three others have raided it. We could all see that but none of us are going to go and risk our skins to stop it.”

The latest figures show rural theft in Essex has fallen two per cent since 2020, but Mr Fairs argued criminals are finding it easier in the countryside.

“It’s physically impossible to protect every item for 24 hours a day,” he added.

“These people are opportunists. They’re driving around looking for an opportunity and they will come back under the cover of darkness to seize it.”