Farm training to beat the sheep rustlers

Constable Ridler and Sgt Moorhouse of North Yorkshire Police scanning tags at Newton Bank Farm, Gargrave.  Pictures: Bruce Rollinson.
Constable Ridler and Sgt Moorhouse of North Yorkshire Police scanning tags at Newton Bank Farm, Gargrave. Pictures: Bruce Rollinson.
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SPECIALIST training to help police cut through complex regulation and step up efforts to drive out sheep rustling from the country’s largest rural county is underway.

Farmers are delivering training sessions for North Yorkshire police officers to familiarise them with handling sheep and to improve their ability to identify individual animals in a new push to fight rural crime.

Yellow electronic tags on sheep help the animals to be identified.

Yellow electronic tags on sheep help the animals to be identified.

The first such session was held yesterday at Newton Bank Farm near Gargrave involving five officers from North Yorkshire Police.

The scale of livestock thefts in the region is huge, costing an estimated £1.2 million-plus in Yorkshire and the North East in the last 12 months, according to the findings of rural insurer NFU Mutual’s annual rural crime survey.

The rustling menace is part of a wider countryside crimewave too, with the total cost of rural crime in Yorkshire amounting to £2.5m in 2014, the survey found.

That figure is down from £3.6m a year earlier, but Julia Mulligan, North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner told The Yorkshire Post last month that she thought the true cost of rural crime was “substantially higher”.

The survey, nevertheless, showed an estimated 13,000 animals were stolen from Yorkshire and the North East in the last year, prompting the National Farmers’ Union to organise training days for police, focused on identification and movement regulations for sheep.

Laurie Norris, the union’s county adviser for the North Riding, said: “It is not surprising that the police often feel ill-equipped to tackle sheep rustling, given that the regulations surrounding sheep identification and movement are quite complex.

“But what is really encouraging is that this is something they want to address and that’s why they are working with us and our farmer members to develop this training initiative. The training will be very practical, showing officers what to look for on the sheep and how to use electronic readers for their ear tags.

“They will also gain basic sheep handling skills, including how to insert an ear tag, and learn about how and why sheep move at certain times of year.”

She added: “It will look at the questions the police should ask anyone they stop with sheep in transit. Suggested answers are being provided by the NFU and as an added bonus a network of local farmers is being established who will be available to offer roadside assistance to officers should they need extra support.”

The initiative will also see police use evidence tags on sheep stopped in transit and suspected of being stolen. Once classified as evidence they will be able to complete their journey but cannot then be sold or moved until investigations are complete.

Auction marts in Leyburn and Skipton are offering temporary emergency housing for sheep when animals are seized by the police.

Paul Woodward, rural and cross border crime co-ordinator for North Yorkshire Police, said: “With livestock theft a continuing problem in our area, this is something we take very seriously.”

He added: “The Force is fully committed to working with the industry to do whatever it takes to tackle this illegal trade.”