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Tuesday, August 25, 1998 Published at 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK


Growth in garden thefts

A booming business - but so is stealing such items

More than a million gardens are raided every year in the UK in what police are referring to as an epidemic.

The BBC's Greg Wood reports
The very latest in microchip technology is being used in the battle against criminals who steal from among the plants and shrubs.

Microchips embedded in trees and plants are thought to be the high-tech answer to a problem which insurers say many dismiss too easily.

[ image: This shed was easily broken into]
This shed was easily broken into
Rare plants, garden gnomes, and even entire ponds complete with fish and fountains are taken.

For victim Elisabeth Ruiz it was not just the loss of two expensive bicycles from the shed that hit home.

She says it was the invasion of privacy: "To feel that people could get into the garden so easily. I must say I then realised how vulnerable we are."

Insurers believe most people pay little regard to the security of the area surrounding their house, even if they are careful about the building itself.

[ image: Wave goodbye? 12,000 worth stolen each year]
Wave goodbye? 12,000 worth stolen each year
Anne Somers, from Abbey National Home Insurance, says the company has seen claims for garden theft more than double in the last two years.

She believes people are not aware of the value of what they have in the garden.

"Once you get outside you think, 'oh well it's only a spade or a statue. No-one will bother to take it'."

But anyone with such an attitude is clearly wrong.

Ten garden sheds a day are being broken into, with 12,000 worth of garden gnomes alone likely to be abducted this year.

There are more spectacular thefts too, with hedges, lawns, and ponds taken away.

It is all a reflection of what is a booming hobby and business - worth 2.5bn a year in the UK.

[ image: A bonsai gets its tag installed]
A bonsai gets its tag installed
So it is no surprise to learn that ever more ingenious anti-theft methods are being used.

Martin Unwin's firm called Bon-Tag, is fitting electronic security tags to bonsai trees.

Each one has a unique serial number when scanned.

Mr Unwin says people are very protective of their bonsais.

"They are irreplaceable to the people because they are like their children - they have created them over a period of time.

"They give a lot of time and effort and materials and there's a great sense of loss."

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