Somerset farmers are under attack from sheep rustlers, who have stolen nearly 500 animals from their fields within the past six weeks.
Somerset and Avon Police have revealed it is investigating “unusual levels” of sheep rustling crimes in the region, along with the possibility that meat from the animals has entered the market illegally.
At least 480 lambs, ewes and rams have been stolen between 12 May and 18 June.
Police believe the thefts could have been carried out “to order” and involved organised crime groups.
Some of the ewes may have been retagged so they appear legitimate and then sold or sent to slaughter by the thieves.
The livestock thefts and associated incidents
- On or around 13 May 21 Charollais breeding rams Radstock
- Overnight 25-26 May 48 sheep, Stoke-sub-Hamdon
- Early hours 28 May Cattle lorry, East Huntspill (found burnt out in Langport 4 June)
- Overnight 29-30 May 49 Charollais ewes and 77 lambs, Baltonsborough
- Overnight 3-4 June 28 North Country Mule ewes and 13 lambs, Yeovil
- Overnight 3-4 June 27 Lleyn ewes and 23 lambs, Yeovil
- Overnight 4-5 June Seven lambs, Rodney Stoke
- Overnight 7-8 June Ifor Williams trailer, Sparkford
- Overnight 7-8 June Two Hereford cows, Ilchester
- Overnight 7-8 June 26 Lleyn sheep, South Petherton
- Overnight 8-9 June 25-30 lambs, East Huntspill
- Overnight 17-18 June 90 ewes and 50 lambs, Langport
- 21 June Four sheep skins found blocking a land drain, Glastonbury
- 23 June Two men disturbed trying to steal a livestock trailer, Yeovil
Last week near Langport, 150 ewes and lambs were loaded into a waiting trailer after the flock was moved into another field in the middle of the night. The estimated value was £30,000.
Livestock trucks and trailers have also been stolen in separate raids.
In the most recent related incident on Tuesday (23 June), two men were disturbed while trying to steal a trailer from a farm near Yeovil.
A victim, who asked not to be identified, said: “It’s sickening what these mindless thieves do.
“The sheep have probably suffered in transit and not been killed humanely either.
“We now have to drive around every day, with our hearts in our mouths, wondering what has been stolen overnight.
“All we are trying to do is an honest day’s work to put food on the plates of the British public, so why should we have to live in fear of these cruel, cold-hearted people.”
Sergeant Stuart Williams of the Rural Crime Team said anyone involved in the crime was helping to destroy honest businesses and lining the pockets of criminals.
“All the thefts are being investigated, and our units are stopping vehicles capable of carrying livestock day and night to check tags and paperwork.”
As well as the roadside checks, the force is sharing information with its Farm Watch group and has alerted neighbouring forces, abattoirs and markets across the country.
Farmers are being urged that if they see vehicles they do not recognise loading stock on a neighbouring farm, they should get in touch with their neighbour immediately.
Superintendent Geoff Wessel, the force’s lead officer for rural crime, said: “This isn’t a new crime trend we’re experiencing, there are reports of rustling throughout the year, but this is an unusual level of activity.
“Whoever is doing this is determined and well organised with a good knowledge of animal handling as well as the means to store or dispose of the animals they’ve stolen without anyone noticing, or giving them new identities and passing them off as their own.”