The rural insurer estimates animals worth £2.1m were stolen in 2021, a 5.5 per cent fall on the previous year. In 2020, the pandemic saw the cost of livestock theft fall by 25.5 per cent, reversing a trend of increases over the previous decade.
During the Covid pandemic rural theft has fallen in many areas. However, NFU Mutual said it is concerned criminals are becoming more active again, combined with increases in prices – including meat – could lead to a resurgence of livestock theft.
Rebecca Davidson, inset, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “It’s encouraging news that rustling has gone down for the second year running.
“Until recently it was very difficult to bring about prosecutions because of the difficulties detecting stolen animals and the likelihood that stolen sheep were usually sold for their meat.
“Now we are seeing hi-tech security and marking systems, along with DNA testing, each making it more difficult for criminals to escape justice.
“While the latest figures are going in the right direction, livestock rustling remains one of the costliest crimes after machinery theft.
“It’s a crime which attacks the roots of farming life and causes huge anxiety for farmers. It also causes suffering to stolen animals which are transported and slaughtered without concern for their welfare.
“The fact that large-scale thefts are still taking place demonstrates there’s no room for complacency and we’re concerned that higher meat prices, combined with the squeeze on consumers, could lead to a new wave of livestock theft.”
Rustling is a crime that has been going on for centuries. However, until the advent of large-scale farming and the development of modern road infrastructures, it rarely involved more than a couple of lambs or a single steer being stolen.
Today, it involves organised criminal gangs, and claims reported to NFU Mutual regularly involve over 50 sheep being taken in a single raid.
To avoid buying unsafe, stolen meat which has been slaughtered illegally, NFU Mutual advises members of the public not to buy meat from unusual sources and to look for the Red Tractor logo.