‘Alarming’ rise in sheep rustling, say rural police

A cross-industry initiative to raise awareness of sheep rustling and what to do about suspicious activity is necessary to fight the mounting menace of sheep rustling, an NFU adviser has said.

Andrew Critchlow, NFU county adviser for Derbyshire, has spoken out about the issue following reports of 71 in-lamb ewes being stolen from a field near the Staffordshire Moorlands and Derbyshire border.

See also: Fleeced: Police failure to tackle sheep rustling exposed

“We need a co-ordinated campaign, starting with signs at markets around the country telling farmers to report suspicious activity, anonymously if necessary.” said Mr Critchlow.

Derbyshire Police said a number of livestock thefts, mostly of sheep, have been reported recently, usually involving fewer than a dozen animals.

This latest incident, where 71 Texel ewes were taken from a field in Hartington overnight on Monday, 4 March, showed the trend had taken an “alarming upward curve”.

A Derbyshire Police spokesman said: “If anybody saw some nocturnal activity on Hyde Lane at Hartington then please get in touch. Seventy-one sheep take some shifting so we’re hoping someone will have seen something.

“Secondly, please keep your eyes open and your mind set to inquisitive and don’t hesitate to ring the police if you see anything at all which gives rise to suspicion.

“Finally, we need information. Someone knows who’s doing this or may at least have an inkling. There’s no honour in protecting a thief and any information will be treated with complete confidentiality.”

Lack of resource

 A recent BBC FoI request revealed that the theft of nearly 10,000 sheep across England and Wales last year only resulted in one police charge.

It showed 9,635 sheep were stolen in 2018, up from 7,606 in 2017 and 6,337 in 2016.

See also: How technology is helping farmers curb sheep thefts

Police in Dorset said there is a lack of resource to tackle rural crime.

All 43 police forces across England and Wales responded to the BBC, giving details of 381 incidents of sheep theft last year. Hertfordshire Police was the only force to bring a charge.

John Hoskin, who runs a farm near Dorchester in Dorset, said sheep theft had cost him between £40,000 and £50,000 in recent years, which had led him to question his future in farming.

North Wales Police is currently investigating the theft of 143 sheep from two farmers in Wrexham, which officers said was the single biggest theft in the five years since its rural crime team was established.

Jack Sinott, 15, had his entire flock of 23 taken in this incident, and was later given 10 black Welsh mountain ewes by three other farmers.

Meanwhile, Dyfed-Powys Police are appealing for information following the theft of 46 sheep in Powys.

Humberside Police are investigating the theft of a number of sheep stolen over the past few months from the same location on farmland near Howden, East Yorkshire.

Farmers Weekly is running a rural crime survey to assess the full scale of the issues across the UK, whether it is sheep rustling, fly tipping or tractor theft. Fill the survey out here and you could win £200 in Amazon vouchers.

Advice on tackling sheep rustling

  • Padlock field gates
  • When possible graze livestock 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
  • Report all thefts as soon as they are noticed
  • Look into technology available now, such as movement-activated CCTV
  • Mark your animals using ear tags, horn-brands, branding or tattooing
  • Keep photographic records to aid in the recovery of stolen animals

Source: NFU Mutual