Police have begun recruiting farmers to act as “agricultural experts” in the fight against rising livestock and machinery crimes.

The move is part of a joint-venture by Lancashire Constabulary and the NFU.

The two bodies have set up a database which they hope farmers will use to log crimes. The main aim is to build a better picture of crimes after the police realised that many smaller thefts of equipment were not being reported.

But the force is also using the database to recruit farmers to act as experts at crime scenes and roadside check points.

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NFU’s Lancashire county chairman John Taylor explained: “Prior to the database being set up a police officer stopping a livestock wagon full of sheep would be more interested in the vehicle’s lights and brakes than the stock because it is more familiar ground.

“Now it’s different. If the officer suspects something fishy regarding the livestock being moved, via the database they can request for a farmer to accompany them under the jurisdiction of the police.”

Mr Taylor added: “The police officer is much better off with the assistance of a hands-on expert in the form of a farmer and access to animal movement paperwork via the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency.”

Mr Taylor, a Lancaster-based hill farmer also said he had given police training in animal handling in case they found themselves having to move sheep to a safe location without any help.

The NFU Mutual figures show that more than 90,000 sheep, cattle and pigs could have been stolen in the UK during 2013 and that in total rustling could have cost UK farmers more than £6m. In Lancashire, the cost of rural theft rose 38% to an estimated £1.8m, raising it to the fifth worst-hit county in the UK.

Tim Price, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “We’re delighted to see this initiative starting up with the strong support it’s already getting. NFU Mutual will be playing a key role in administering the initiative through our local office network and our regional office in Chester.

“We very much hope this database idea will be rolled out soon across the country. This will send a clear message to thieves that stealing livestock is a crime that is likely to be traced and we’ll see insurance claims falling as we have with machinery in areas with strong farm watch groups.”

Any farmers wishing to find out more, or who want to add their names straight to the database, should contact NFU Lancashire county adviser Adam Briggs on 01695 554912.

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