Police are hunting thieves who stole more than 40 in-lamb ewes from a farm in Lancashire.

The white-faced sheep, which are thought to be worth in the region of £7,000, were taken from a farm in Hapton between 22 February and 1 March.

Livestock farmer John Mellin originally reported the sheep as lost, but he later contacted police to say a gate had been removed from its hinges and officers now believe the sheep were stolen.

In early March, Mr Mellin of Mill House Farm, Long Peston, near Skipton, managed to track down seven of the sheep over a mile away. However, 43 remain unaccounted for.

See also 30,000 worth of in-lamb pedigree ewes from a farm in Lancashire

The theft continues a worrying trend of sheep rustling in the area after thieves stole more than £30,000 worth of in-lamb pedigree ewes from a farm in Lancashire earlier this year. It is not known whether the two crimes were carried out by the same culprits.

Tim Price, rural affairs spokesman at NFU Mutual, said: “High meat prices and improved security on farm vehicles appear to be leading to a resurgence in livestock rustling. In the last few years we have seen a worrying increase in thefts in all livestock rearing parts of the UK.”

NFU Mutual’s claims figures show that the cost of rustling increased by a staggering 170% in 2011 over 2010 – and further increased by 3.6% in 2012 as thieves continued to target livestock. Last year rustling is estimated to have cost UK farmers in excess of £6m, including £730,000 in the North West.


How to prevent sheep rustling

Preventing rustling is not as easy as putting a padlock on a building, or fitting an security system to a tractor, because you can’t lock up livestock overnight or fit an immobiliser to them.

However, there are a number of steps farmers can take to reduce the risk according to Mr Price.

NFU Mutual advises farmers to:

  • Padlock field gates
  • Ensure stock is clearly marked and records are up to date
  • When possible graze sheep in fields away from roads
  • Check stock regularly – and vary times of feeding/check-ups
  • Ask neighbours to report any sightings of unusual vehicles loading sheep
  • Join a FarmWatch scheme