The tide may be turning in the fight against sheep rustlers who threaten to destroy the livelihoods of struggling farmers, according to the latest North Yorkshire Police figures.
Farms in Harrogate, Ingleton and Hardacre are among a dozen hit by the theft of sheep in the first eight months of 2017, with around 210 animals stolen.
If the current rate continues, the county’s force could record around 18 thefts and 315 sheep stolen by the year’s end.
This is compared to 39 instances and 732 sheep last year, a decrease on the 42 instances and 1,200 sheep in 2015.
Inspector Jon Grainge, of the Rural Taskforce, said: “It ebbs and flows throughout the year when you get them stolen for the illegal food trade or for their bloodlines. It is an ongoing problem.”
Ten rare breed sheep were stolen in Craven last week, with each animal worth around £1,000.
Sheep are always vulnerable to theft, as they’re kept in open fields and are easy to move.Chris Clement, farm account executive at McClarrons
NFU Mutual’s latest analysis found the cost of rural crime in North Yorkshire reached £1.15m in 2016, up 7.2 per cent on 2015.
Its rural affairs specialist Tim Price said: “For sheep farmers who are already struggling – especially in upland areas – a large theft can be enough to force them to change the way they farm – or even stop farming altogether.
“While many farmers have insurance which can cover the cost of stolen sheep, a major attack still means a lot of work and extra expense replacing lost breeding stock, and rebuilding flocks built up over many years.”
The specialist insurer has helped finance a new initiative, known as Ewe Hostels, which provide secure housing for livestock believed to have been stolen so that they can be used as evidence in court cases.
But Insp Grainge said bringing those cases can prove a challenge, with the theft of sheep kept on vast stretches of moorland and in remote locations rarely yielding the witnesses, CCTV footage or forensic evidence you might expect after other crimes.
The Taskforce has written to around 5,000 of the county’s 8,500 farms already this year to offer advice and personal visits.
It is also supporting a pilot of TecTracer, coded markers embedded in a sheep’s fleece which can help to identify it as stolen.
Chris Clement, farm account executive at Malton-based insurer McClarrons, said: “Sheep are always vulnerable to theft, as they’re kept in open fields and are easy to move.
“If this technology becomes widespread and more rustlers receive convictions as a result, we’d hope that it would act as a pretty strong deterrent in the future.”