Farmers are being warned about sheep rustlers as it emerges thieves have struck seven times in the Harrogate district this year alone.
Nearly 1,000 sheep have been stolen from farms in the Harrogate district in raids over the last four years, an Advertiser investigation has revealed.
And while the numbers of sheep being stolen at any one time is shrinking, the number of times thieves are striking is slowly rising.
Sgt Martin McLachlan, wildlife crime co-ordinator for North Yorkshire Police, said: “I am asking farmers to make sure that they make regular checks of their livestock.
“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.
“We are also keen to speak to anyone who may be offered meat in suspicious circumstances and ask them to get in touch straight away.”
The new figures, uncovered through a Freedom of Information request, show that there have been 34 incidents of sheep rustling in the Harrogate district since 2010, resulting in 991 sheep being stolen.
In 2010, 399 sheep were stolen in eight raids, while in 2013, 238 sheep were stolen in 10 raids.
In September this year, thieves struck at a farm in Fewston, stealing 50 Texel and Suffolk lambs over a two week period.
And across the Harrogate district, thieves have already struck seven times in the months up to October 2014, stealing 149 sheep.
The trend, says NFU Mutual, suggests that more organised gangs are becoming involved.
“Livestock rustling can have a devastating impact, ” warned Tim Price, rural affairs specialist for NFU Mutual, when thieves struck last month.
“The returns on sheep are very low, and they can be completely wiped out if some are stolen.
“As well as the financial loss, it’s time consuming to build a flock back up - especially if it’s just lambs stolen without their mothers.”
Police say the trend is happening across North Yorkshire. Since mid-September, 228 lambs and sheep have been reported stolen from farms near Kirkbymoorside, Fewston, Skipton, Settle, and Thornton Le Clay, York.
The breeds which have been taken include Continental, Texel, Suffolk, Swaledale and Lonk sheep, as well as pedigree Beltex ewes.