Western Morning News

Rustling rife despite pandemic

- ATHWENNA IRONS athwenna.irons@reachplc.com

LIVESTOCK worth an estimated £2.3 million was stolen from British farms last year, startling new figures have revealed, making rustling one of the most costly crimes for farmers after vehicle and machinery theft.

Although the pandemic saw the cost of rustling in the UK decrease by a quarter, data released this week by rural insurer NFU Mutual shows that in the South West region the cost of animals stolen rose by over a third, to an estimated £320,000.

In the Midlands, a sharp fall of 44% in 2020 followed the successful prosecutio­n of livestock thieves who horrified farmers and the public in 2019 by barbarical­ly slaughteri­ng large numbers sheep in fields in Northampto­nshire and leaving their remains behind.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Last year’s overall fall is encouragin­g news to an industry which has worked hard through the pandemic to keep the nation fed.

“Tougher police enforcemen­t certainly seems to have taken effect and the Covid-19 restrictio­ns may have also deterred criminals who would have been easier to detect during lockdown.”

But the latest claims figures are “not a reason for complacenc­y”, Ms Davidson added, with NFU Mutual “deeply concerned” as rustling crimes continue - even at a time of national crisis.

She continued: “Modern rustling is a large-scale, organised crime causing suffering to animals, adding financial pressures to farmers and putting public health at risk.

“We are worried that when movement restrictio­ns ease there could be a resurgence as thieves target the countrysid­e again. We are urging farmers to remain vigilant and check stock regularly.”

Rustling has always been an aspect of farming but 10 years ago NFU Mutual would rarely see claims of more than a dozen sheep taken at a time. The insurer now regularly receives reports of 30 to 100 sheep being taken in a single raid.

Ms Davidson added: “As well as causing untold suffering to ewes, who may be in lamb when they are stolen, rustling is causing high levels of anxiety for farmers who have built up their flocks over many years.”

To avoid buying unsafe stolen meat which has been slaughtere­d illegally, NFU Mutual is advising members of the public not to buy meat from unusual sources and to always look for the Red Tractor logo displayed on packaging.

NFU Mutual is currently involved in a number of schemes with police forces around the UK which not only share valuable intelligen­ce, but also support the training of officers to work more closely with farmers and identify livestock theft.

The insurer has also supported secure shelters for stolen animals so they can be cared for while police investigat­ions take place.

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