A rising menace that is leaving farmers both out of pocket and in the worst cases heartbroken, sheep rustling is a major challenge in the county with some 498 animals taken from farmers’ fields since the start of August.
The crime figures, supplied to The Yorkshire Post by North Yorkshire Police, chart how thefts have spiralled recently with the total number of livestock stolen between January and July a comparatively lower, but still problematic, 241.
North Yorkshire Police is warning farmers across the county to be extra vigilant as they battle to scupper the criminals which the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) believes are targeting livestock on a ‘to order’ basis.
Hotspot locations for the crime since mid-September were Kirkbymoorside, Fewston near Harrogate, Skipton, Settle, and Thornton Le Clay, York, where 228 lambs and sheep were reported stolen from farms. The breeds targeted in these cases were Continental, Texel, Suffolk, Swaledale and Lonk sheep, and pedigree Beltex ewes.
Explaining why the situation appeared to be getting worse, Sergeant Martin McLachlan, wildlife crime co-ordinator for North Yorkshire Police, said it was seasonal.
“Sheep and lambs are in their fattest prime condition coming up to the end of summer having been out at grass all summer so thefts have increased.”
He said sheep were vulnerable as they tend to be kept in fields more remote from the farm than other livestock and are not always checked on a daily basis, meaning they are often not reported missing immediately.
The end result, Sgt McLachlan said, is that stolen sheep are believed to be reaching the human food supply either through unlicensed or unscrupulous processors.
He urged farmers to regularly check their livestock, adding: “If you see anyone acting suspiciously or unusual vehicles in or around fields containing livestock, I urge you to contact the police immediately. We would far rather attend and not be needed than miss the opportunity to arrest and deter criminals from offending.”
Anyone who is offered meat in suspicious circumstances should also contact the police, he said.
Laurie Norris, North Riding county policy adviser at the NFU, said farmers are left devastated when their flock is depleted by illegal means.
“It is heartbreaking for the victims, particularly breeding sheep which farmers have spent generations breeding to create, in some cases, pedigree animals and they are just taken willy-nilly. The victim may only have a small flock and so it can have serious consequences on their business.”
Farmers can take a few simple steps to help prevent themselves becoming the victims of this type of crime, North Yorkshire Police said:
Make regular checks on stock kept in fields;
Ensure that hedgerows and gates are in good repair;
Fit capping hinges to gates so that they cannot be lifted off and securing gates where possible;
For livestock kept in barns or sheds, consider fitting CCTV so they can be seen from the farm house.
Suspicious behaviour should be reported to North Yorkshire Police on 101.