REVEALED: 45pc rise in costs and the impact of livestock theft on region
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018
The spiralling cost of livestock theft in our region has today been revealed, after a hundred sheep were stolen from a Norfolk farm.
The East of England saw a 45pc rise in costs associated with the crime in the year before last, spiking from £10,269 in 2016, to £14,942 in 2017.
And while complete figures for 2018 are not yet available, it is thought the trend towards an increase did continue in January to November last year.
It comes as police investigate the theft of 100 sheep from High Elm Farm, East Tuddenham on Tuesday, January 16.
It was initially believed 500 were stolen from the farm.
The country's biggest rural insurer, NFU Mutual, said livestock theft had become 'an organised crime costing UK agriculture millions' and estimated the cost rose from £2.2m in 2016 to £2.4m in 2017, in the UK.
Rural insurance specialist Rebecca Davidson said: 'We are seeing an alarming trend of thieves stealing greater numbers of livestock.
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'A decade ago, rustling was typically a local crime involving a couple of lambs or half a dozen geese being taken 'for the pot'.
'Now it's an organised crime with hundreds of lambs being taken in a single raid and it's costing UK agriculture millions.
'The impact is severe for small farms, where the loss can lead to cash flow problems and disrupt the farm's operation for over a year as they rebuild flocks.'
The insurer, which covers more than three quarters of UK farmers, said initial estimates for 2018 suggest another rise and more cases of large scale theft.
PC Dave Armstrong, who has worked in Norfolk police's rural crime unit, Operation Randall, since July, said he recognised the picture of rising rural crime in the Eastern region.
He said: 'We have seen a rise in rural crime in certain areas.
'Criminals will take any opportunity they can in areas which are vulnerable to attack.
'One of the big things is to increase engagement - the rural community know the issues and they know what's right and what's wrong where they live, and who is and isn't where they should be.
'It's time to create dialogue between them and the police.'
PC Armstrong said the unit wanted to assure people: 'We will investigate rural crimes as we would with crimes in urban areas.
'We work with partner agencies like the National Farmers Union and the Gamekeepers Association to build up that understanding of the issues affecting farming communities.
'We need the public to have confidence in us.'
How farmers can protect themselves:
NFU Mutual said there are three distinct kinds of livestock thefts currently taking place.
These are: large scale thefts - organised crime with animals destined for the food chain; pedigree thefts - rams stolen for their high value semen; and money laundering - organised criminal gangs buying and selling on sheep at auctions to launder money.
To deter thieves, NFU Mutual advises farmers to:
• Padlock field gates;
• Ensure stock are clearly marked and records are up to date;
• Graze livestock in fields away from roads whenever possible;
• Check stock regularly - and vary feed/check up times;
• Consider a high-tech marking system such as TecTracer which puts thousands of coded microdot markers into each sheep's fleece;
• Ask neighbours to report any sightings of unusual vehicles loading sheep;
• And joining a FarmWatch scheme.