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Crime distribution patterns do show that houses backing onto land to which the public have access are burgled more often than say houses and gardens that back onto other gardens. The term, ‘to which the public have access’, may involve trespass, such as using the network of railway lines.
Access onto railway lines can be made from stations and at level crossings (which are nearly all unmanned these days) and because railway lines often run in deep cuttings and are bordered by dense undergrowth and trees, the thief is provided with excellent covert access to reach the back fences of the houses that border the line.
Canal towpaths are another favourite for the thief, especially if the access onto the towpath is close by. In spite of this fact, new homes built next to canal towpaths invariably include a new access point to fulfil the aspirations of local government and British Waterways to make more use of the towpath system. This is not a bad idea, but careful thought must be given not to include too many new accesses that will unwittingly increase the chance of burglary. We already know that ungated back alleyways provide the opportunity for many thousands of crimes to be committed and canal towpaths can do the same. The problem is we can’t gate the towpaths!
Access opportunities for criminals climbing in from parks, public open spaces and agricultural land have always been a problem, especially so when some local authorities got rid of park keepers and stopped locking up their parks at night to save money. This trend seems to have been reversed in recent years however, but it just goes to show how a decision to do one thing can have unexpected consequences for something else.
Improving the boundary fence
All of these crime problems require similar solutions that involve improvements to the boundary fence or wall. You won’t want to do all that is recommended, but I’ve listed everything you could do so at least you have a choice.
Solid fences and walls
The following advice is for panelled fences, vertical close boarded fences and walls
- Make sure that the fence is in good condition and replace rotten panels and posts etc. Pay particular attention to vertical close-boarded fences as the individual boards can be pulled off. If necessary screw the boards to the arris rails using brass/stainless steel screws rather than relying on the nails
- Try to achieve a height of 2 metres for the fence or wall. This may require a new fence or some extra bricks, but you can also consider topping the structure with trellis to make up the height. The trellis needs to be strong enough so it won’t get blown down, but weak enough that it collapses under the weight of someone climbing
- Consider growing a thorny shrub over the top of the fence or wall, such as a climbing or rambling rose or pyracantha. A full list of defensive shrubs can be found in Preventing crime in the garden, outbuildings and garage, Garden boundaries
- If your fence or wall borders a public park or public open space speak to the local authority about a defensive planting scheme on their side of the fence to protect you and your neighbours from burglary. Approaches to British Waterways, the railway company and the farmer for a similar solution may also be tried.
- DO NOT top the fencing with hidden things that are designed or intended to cause injury, such as carpet gripper, razor wire, rusty nails and so on. These are ‘man traps’ and you may be breaking the law and you could get sued if somebody is injured. Bear in mind that innocent people get injured by these things, like police officers chasing burglars over the fence (I’ve done that and landed on a broken cucumber frame, broken by the burglar in front of me!) or a young child trying to retrieve a ball (See Preventing crime in the garden, outbuildings and garage, Garden boundaries The law concerning boundary fences, gates and walls)
- If you must use a topping that could cause injury it must be visible and should be at a minimum height of 2.4 metres, so that nobody could accidentally catch themselves on it. You are also strongly advised to put warning signs on the public side of the fence or wall warning people about the specific dangers of climbing. Planning permission will be required.
The following advice is for post and wire fences, horizontal –board or ranch fences, timber palisade, and picket fences, chestnut paling, wattle panels, low walls and metal fences of various types.
Sometimes there will be a planning condition that determines the type of fence or wall you can have and so before you make any changes you are advised to check with the local planning authority.
This section also accepts the fact that many of you have a low wall or fence because you enjoy a wonderful view and would not wish to do anything that might detract from that. This is perfectly understandable and therefore you will have to accept that your garden and your house may be more vulnerable to crime and you should concentrate your efforts on the house and ensure that the garden tools and things in the garden you treasure are locked away and otherwise secured.
- If you intend to retain a low boundary fence or wall for the view then to improve the security will involve making it deeper using defensible plants, rather than taller. Clearly, new plants will need to mature before they can be expected to form an effective barrier, but it can be done and you may feel it’s worth it in the long run
- Retaining a view and at the same time increasing your security can be achieved by using welded mesh fencing panels. With the correct colour powder coating the fence is almost lost against the background when viewed from straight on. A welded mesh fence at 2 metres high can certainly delay an intrusion, especially if is accompanied by some low level prickly shrubs
- If you are considering a new fence then look at the fencing types described in the Preventing crime in the garden, outbuildings and garage, Garden boundaries
- If you have a timber palisade fence which is sometimes seen bordering a canal towpath (the idea is that both the householder and canal path user benefit from mutual supervision by each other) and you cannot or do not want to make the fence solid then make sure that you bolt the vertical pails through the rails. Cutting the tops of each pail to form a point can also deter some climbers.