A rising global demand for agricultural equipment is attracting organised crime to the countryside, according to NFU Mutual which provides insurance to farmers.

In response, farmers are resorting to “medieval” fortifications such as earthworks to protect their property.

In particular, thefts of quad bikes, agricultural vehicles and 4x4s have fuelled a 13.4% increase in rural crime in England over the last year.

Now, Scotland’s only independent furniture design school has said that, if medieval ideas are the way forward, it might have part of the solution.

The Chippendale International School of Furniture, which takes a small number of students each year from around the world, is also a community of woodworkers – and one of its products are shepherd’s huts.

The humble shepherd’s hut was once a common sight across much of the British countryside, allowing farmers to watch over their flocks by night, particularly during the lambing season.

The Chippendale school, which has sold several shepherd’s huts, has given them a 21st century makeover, complete with wood-burning stove.

The traditional hut was a small one-room structure with cast-iron wheels and, internally, contained a bed for the shepherd, some basic amenities such as a stove, and feedstuffs and medicines for the animals.

The first recorded shepherd’s hut dates back to the 16th century and they were a common rural fixture in the 18th and 19th centuries.  During World War II they were sometimes used as Home Guard outposts or as accommodation for prisoners-of-war working on farms.  However, by the 1950s, very few remained.

With the shepherd’s hut being of limited size and with wheels, it more resembles a caravan than a fixed structure, and not normally subject to planning regulations.

The school designs and makes the bespoke huts, mainly from Scottish Douglas Fir, and can configure each hut to individual specifications.

“We have reinvented the shepherd’s hut for the 21st century, and it may again have a role to play in keeping farmers’ livestock and equipment safe at night,” said Tom Fraser, deputy principal of the school.

“While most shepherd’s huts are used to create additional living space, fitness rooms or home offices, they could also be used to deter criminality,” he said.

While rural crime has fallen in Scotland and the north west of England, there have been sharp rises of more than 30% in the Midlands, Wales and the south east of England.

Photographer Tony Marsh

NFU Mutual said that farmers are creating barriers such as earth banks – the medieval fortifications last used a thousand years ago, and combining these ancient deterrents with modern technology, such as CCTV, floodlighting and motion sensors.

In a bid to cut crime, ancient and modern approaches may both therefore have a part to play, including a new lease of life for the shepherd’s hut.

Prices for shepherd’s huts are available from the Chippendale school and depend on interior fit-out and configuration.  Visitors to the school are always welcome during office hours.

Notes: The shepherd’s hut

The traditional shepherd’s hut was used particularly during the lambing season, to provide protection for the flock and as a sanctuary for injured or orphaned lambs.

The first recorded shepherd’s hut dates back to the 16th century in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Leonard Mascal, the 16th century English writer wrote that “in some place the Shepheard hath his cabbin going upon a wheele for to remove here and there at his pleasure.”

Two websites deal with the history of the shepherd’s hut:

http://www.shepherdhuts.co.uk/page5.htm

http://www.shepherd-hut.co.uk/history.html

In 2010, a 19th century Norfolk shepherd’s hut was chosen as one of the Top 10 artefacts to be submitted to the BBC’s A History of the World project.

They are now in use as home-offices, gyms, spare bedrooms, storage sheds – even as holiday accommodation, with inside toilet and shower cubicle.