‘Tide turn­ing’ in fight with sheep rustlers

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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 about 210 an­i­mals stolen.

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 about 210 an­i­mals stolen.

If the cur­rent rate con­tin­ues, the county’s force could record about 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.

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 about 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.”

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