An increase in lamb prices could lead to a rise in sheep rustling, farmers have been warned.
Rural insurer Cornish Mutual said it had received a number of claims worth thousands of pounds after sheep were stolen from farms in Cornwall.
It said high lamb prices could be making the animals attractive to thieves and has warned its members across Devon, Dorset, Cornwall and Somerset to be vigilant.
“It could be that the high-price of lamb is having an impact on the recent spate of sheep rustling claims,” said the insurer’s Alan Goddard.
“We have only started to get claims for sheep rustling in the last six months or so.
“A ewe going for mutton can fetch around £100 these days and store lambs can go for around £60, which is a lot for sheep.”
Mr Goddard said one robbery resulted in 27 lamb ewes being stolen from a farm in Bodmin after they were being grazed on common ground.
Another theft saw 32 fat lambs, worth about £85 each, taken from Chawleigh in Devon.
Roger Hosken, who handled the claim on behalf of the insurer, said the robbery had been a “well conducted operation”, where the rustlers drove the sheep down a lane to a blind spot where they were loaded onto a trailer.
There had been a significant increase in the number of sheep rustling cases over the last eighteen months, he added.
“I’ve been a loss adjuster for many years and have seen at least 12 cases across the two counties this year.
“Overall, the sheep trade has hardened over the last six months and there’s a direct link between the value of the animals on the open market and an increase in sheep rustling incidents.”