You can’t just assume your high seat will be safe – theft is real and on the increase. Simon Barr advises on how to prevent it
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the theft of high seats is on the increase. Unfortunately, one of my high seats recently fell victim to this growing trend and became a crime statistic.
“It looks like the tree has been felled with a chainsaw and there is no sign of your seat anywhere,” explained the owner of a wood in West Sussex that I manage for roe. Given that I had spent more than £250 on a zinc-galvanised double high seat, this was a regrettable phone call. I had positioned the seat in what I thought was a secluded and deep part of the chestnut coppiced wood, well away from footpaths, but clearly I could have done more. This incident has made me reflect on how to prevent the seat being stolen. The Deer Initiative’s best-practice guide offers minimal advice on high seat security, so I consulted some of the industry’s leading experts on what can be done to protect this expensive deer management tool.
Good location selection is key. Choose a large hardwood tree if possible, and site the seat away from footpaths or field edges, deeper inside the woodland. Try to find an area that is not overlooked by a public highway or easily accessible by vehicles. If the area to be managed is a field and you cannot hide the seat away in a wood, you will have to rely on other security measures.
A heavy-duty padlock and a hardened high-grade steel chain secured behind the tree away from the seat are essential. If you can get to the lock and chain from the seat, so can someone with bolt cutters. If it means taking a separate ladder to position the chain and padlock in a less accessible position it is worth the effort. The industry standard for padlock security is the Comité Europeen de Normalisation (CEN) ranking, ranging from low-security grade 1 padlocks to costly and near impenetrable grade 6 monsters. CEN grade 3 closed shackle padlocks start at around £30 and will be well worth the investment – plus, if your high seat is insured, this grade of padlock should satisfy your insurer. As your seat is exposed to the elements, for complete peace of mind buy a marine-grade padlock and chain designed to withstand the harshest of environments.
Unlike my high seat, which was a bright galvanised metallic beacon in the woodland, it would be advisable to spray the seat with a dull matt paint tone before you erect it. Many high seat manufacturers offer this as an optional extra. You can also camouflage the seat with camo netting, although this is also prone to theft and very difficult to secure even when cable tied in position.
Another optional extra that many manufacturers suggest is welding a unique serial number into the frame that can identify your stolen seat and act as a deterrent if seen by an opportunistic thief. It may also be worth considering marking the seat in a discreet location, so that if it is stolen the mark cannot be scratched off. Companies such as SelectMark.co.uk offer a number of ways to mark property with UV-Pens that remain invisible to the naked eye but show up if scanned with UV light.
Once erected, you should take extensive photos of your high seat in situ and include pictures of the serial number and the locks for your own permanent records. It is also a requirement to have a sign clearly stating, ‘No unauthorised persons allowed beyond this point’. Believe it or not, if someone (even a would-be thief) has an accident on your high seat then you are liable for a claim under the Health and Safety Act 1974. You might also want to include the fact that the seat is marked by traceable means on the sign to also act as a deterrent to a thief.
If the only location you can position a high seat is vulnerable to theft, you could consider building one from chestnut around a tree so that it cannot be taken down in one piece without dismantling it completely. This may seem like a long-winded approach but it is cheaper than buying a metal seat – and it has the advantage of having no scrap value, which may eliminate one type of potential thief.
“If you find that your seat has been stolen, it is essential that you report it to the police,” says PC Duncan Thomas, wildlife officer for Lancashire police. “The police need to know about these types of thefts so that the incident can be accurately recorded in the rural crime figures, and the necessary resources allocated to try and prevent more crimes of this nature.” Duncan went on to say: “It is surprising how many times a seat is recovered and we do not know where it has come from or who to give it back to. If high seats have security marks on them, it enables the police to link the initial report with the recovered property and return it to the owner, so I would strongly advise this as a matter of course on all high seats.”
If you are unsure what action to take regarding high seat security then contact your local police constabulary or a representative from any shooting organisation that you are a member of. It may also be worth checking whether your household insurance company will cover an item of this nature against theft. They will be able to advise on what security measures they would require to enable them to underwrite your high seat.
As a consequence of the theft, I have chosen to replace the seat that was stolen with a self-built seat made from chestnut. It took two of us a day to build, but it cannot be taken down in one piece and is superbly camouflaged by the woodland. I have also fitted additional security measures on all of my other high seats and I now have a comprehensive photographic record. You will never be able to make a high seat 100 per cent secure, but you can certainly deter most thieves.