Higher sheep prices will trigger an increase in sheep rustling in the coming months, police in the north west of England have warned.

Flock owners in the region lost more sheep to rustlers last year than any other region – over 6000 head were stolen in 2011 – but as the value of all classes of sheep continues to increase it is likely that rustling gangs are gearing up to target more flocks, a police spokesman said.

Mark Thomas, wildlife office with Lancashire constabulary, said sheep producers must be aware of several issues that were likely to increase the risks of rustling.

“Not only are sheep increasing in value, but at this time of year a lot of ewes are being fed in roadside fields in the run-up to lambing. When flocks see a parked vehicle they often run towards it expecting to be fed and that makes the rustlers job even easier.

“The short days also give more opportunity for sheep to be taken in darkness but it’s important too that farmers realise sheep are being stolen by people with livestock experience so it pays to be careful about casual chat,” Mr Thomas said.

He added that the latest loss of 42 in-lamb ewes from a farm at Charnock Richard in Lancashire showed thieves were not only interested in sheep for slaughter.

Sheep farmers should feed ewes away from roadside locations wherever possible and to vary feeding times each day, he said.

“Neighbours should be watching out for each other and if any unknown vehicles are spotted parked near fields or strangers seen taking an interest in stock it should be reported to the police who will follow up all these sightings.

“These are organised gangs with men and dogs who know what they are doing. Although most sheep are taken for slaughter there’s now the added incentive to take in-lamb ewes and increase the potential value of the haul.”

Livestock rustling claims through NFU Mutual more than doubled last year compared with 2010, as did the cost of claims which was almost £6m.

Other regions have been hard hit by rustlers. NFU Mutual reckons over 7,000 sheep were stolen in the South West last year while the worst-affected region is currently Northern Ireland where rustling accounted for 20% of livestock claims.


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