Organised gangs of sheep rustlers are targeting Lancashire, farmers have been warned, with hundreds of sheep disappearing in a series of high value-thefts in just one month.
Investigations by Lancashire Police have revealed that in August alone over 500 sheep and lambs valued at around £45,400 were taken in four incidents in Lancashire
The numbers of sheep stolen in Lancashire so far this year has risen by more 50 per cent year-on-year from 224 in 2016 to 697 in 2017, say police.
And rural crime experts are now saying the thefts are likely to have been carried out by organised criminal gangs.
Rural and Wildlife Crime Coordinator for Lancashire Police, Lorraine Ellwood, said: “To steal sheep of these numbers would require knowledge of handling and access to trailers.
“We strongly believe that thefts of this kind are well organised and with a pre-determined destination.”
One farming family based at Manor House Farm in Anglezarke Chorley, said they had lost around 300 lambs to theft.
The farmers, who have lived and worked on the farm for three generations, have spoken of their frustration at the loss of the animals which are estimated to have a value in the region of £20,000.
Helen Drinkall, 27, said: “We lost around 300 out of around 2,100 lambs from our saleable stock in the theft.
“This has really impacted on our income. We had a similar incident about six years ago.
It’s just so frustrating and not fair. Somebody else is making a profit out of this without doing any work.
“It’s very hard to prevent these thefts. Its so easy for the sheep to be stolen and for their identity tags to be cut out.
“It’s just so frustrating and not fair. Somebody else is making a profit out of this without doing any work.
“We have spent valuable time breading and rearing the animals and nothing has come of it.”
Specially trained officers at the Lancashire Police Rural Crimes unit are now investigating the recent rise in sheep rustling.
They are calling for members of the rural community to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious circumstances to them.
Lorraine Ellwood, of Lancashire Police, added: “This is obviously a concern for us and for the local farming community and we are looking very closely at these incidents.
“Lancashire Constabulary has invested a lot of time and effort into training our rural officers in rural and livestock theft; what to look for, what questions to ask, and indeed how to handle livestock themselves.
“We would appeal to the rural community to keep their eyes and ears open and to contact us with any information or suspicious circumstances.
“All information received, however small and insignificant you may believe it to be, is vital in assisting us in catching these criminals. ”
A spokesman for the National Farmer’s Union has said the recent rise in sheep rustling in Lancashire reflects a national trend.
Livestock adviser John Royle said: “Unfortunately, these kinds of incidents seem to be on the rise across the country. When you consider that lambs can be worth in the region of £90 each we’re talking about a high value crime.
“As a general rule rustlers tend to focus on remote and isolated areas away from farm houses and these are typically in the North and West of the country.
“The thieves are very organised and often have specially trained dogs, four-by-fours or quad bikes to herd the sheep. Once they get the animals they then change their identities by taking the sheep’s tags out and replacing it with a new one.
“After their identities are changed the sheep can then be sold on to unsuspecting farmers or directly to abattoirs.”
Andrew Piner 2015
In 2015 sheep rustler Andrew Piner, 49 was jailed after being convicted of stealing livestock worth more than £5,000 from a field in the Peak District. The sheep’s owner Mr David Robinson appealed to the farming community for help in discovering the whereabouts of his lost animals and received several phone calls naming Piner, of Mill Lane, Gisburn, near Clitheroe, as the person who took the sheep. Police were informed and checks discovered 34 of the missing sheep on a farm in Clitheroe where Piner was manager. He was jailed for 18 weeks.
2013 theft from Claughton on Brock
Raiders took 25 clipped Texel Cross sheep, valued at between £140 and £180 each, from a flock of more than 70 at Hobbs Lane, Claughton-on-Brock in 2013. Police said the theft of the animals valued at over £3,500 happened from a padlocked field in broad daylight.
James Hesketh and John Kirkham 2012
In 2012 two Lancashire men were convicted of sheep rustling after 55 pregnant ewes were stolen from a farm. James Hesketh, 20, of Wheatsheaf Avenue, Longridge, was found guilty of handling stolen goods and a second man, John Kirkham, 65, of Whittingham Lane, Goosnargh, pleaded guilty to the theft. The sheep were found on a farm in Durham later after a local farmer became suspicious and contacted the police.