Skilled livestock handlers with trained dogs are suspected of stealing 200 sheep in Wiltshire.
Officers in the county have reported three separate thefts of sheep over the past three months by highly organised rural criminals.
In the latest incident on 27 December, 72 Romney breeding ewes were stolen from a field on the Bowood Estate, Derry Hill.
On 17 December, 61 sheep were taken from a field in Broughton Gifford, Melksham.
In the first incident on 7 November, about 45 sheep were stolen after thieves gained entry to a gated and locked field in Corsham Road, Lacock.
PC Emily Thomas, from Wiltshire Police’s rural crime team, said: “We are keeping an open mind, but we believe these incidents may be linked and those responsible must be skilled sheep handlers with trained dogs, as this kind of theft requires a high level or organisation to be conducted quickly and undisturbed.
“Often, those responsible will not look suspicious to passers-by unless you are local and know who the farmers in your area are.
“Our message to the public would be to always be vigilant, and if you see any vehicles or people you do not recognise dealing with livestock in your area, please call 101 and report your concerns, as well as any description of vehicle you are able to obtain as soon as possible. Even if it turns out the individuals are legitimate, we would rather be made aware so we can check all is well.”
Financial and emotional cost
Bowood Estate has suffered both a financial loss and the emotional impact of losing the sheep, PC Thomas added. “It would have taken years of breeding to establish the flock. Not knowing what may have happened to the animals can be extremely upsetting.”
Anyone with information about any of the incidents should call 101, quoting crime reference number 54190124666.
The thefts follow news that police in North Yorkshire seized 63 sheep from a field in Thirsk and they are seeking to reunite the animals with their owners.
Rural insurer NFU Mutual told Farmers Weekly in April 2019 that £2.5m worth of livestock were stolen in 2018 – a rise of 11% since 2016.