Livestock worth an estimated £2.3m was stolen from UK farms in 2020 – making rustling one of the most costly crimes for British farmers after vehicle and machinery theft.
The latest figures from NFU Mutual show a decrease from 2019, when livestock theft cost the UK about £3m.
Lockdown restrictions due to the coronavirus crisis could have contributed to the drop off, but the rural insurer’s figures reveal in the South West, the cost of animals stolen rose by more than one-third to an estimated £320,000.
In the Midlands, a sharp fall of 44% in 2020 followed the successful prosecution of livestock thieves who horrified farmers and the public in 2019 by barbarically slaughtering large numbers of sheep in fields in Northamptonshire and leaving their remains behind.
Rural affairs specialist Rebecca Davidson said last year’s overall fall is encouraging, but warned against a resurgence of rural crime when Covid-19 restrictions are eventually eased.
“Tougher police enforcement certainly seems to have taken effect and the coronavirus restrictions may have also deterred criminals, who would have been easier to detect during lockdown.
“However, the latest figures from NFU Mutual’s claims are not a reason for complacency and we are deeply concerned this crime continues – even at a time of crisis.
“Modern rustling is a large-scale, organised crime causing suffering to animals, adding financial pressures to farmers and putting public health at risk.
“We are worried that when movement restrictions ease there could be a resurgence as thieves target the countryside again.
“We are urging farmers to remain vigilant and check stock regularly.”
Modern livestock thieves scout the countryside for targets and come equipped to steal with large vehicles.
Protecting flocks requires increasingly sophisticated measures.
To deter livestock thieves, NFU Mutual advises farmers to:
- Ensure stock is clearly marked and records are up to date
- When possible, graze livestock in fields away from roads
- Check stock regularly and vary times of feeding/checkups
- Consider a high-tech marking system such as TecTracer, which puts thousands of coded microdot markers into a sheep’s fleece
- Join a Farm or Rural Watch scheme to share information about rural crime in your area
- Ask neighbours to report any suspicious sightings to the police, or to give information 100% anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111
- Dial 999 immediately if an incident is taking place – do not approach criminals