As the UK battles the escalating Covid-19 outbreak, farmers are being warned to take steps to protect their machinery, livestock and equipment from thieves who are taking advantage of the pandemic.
Legal insurer NFU Mutual says it is has received reports of rustling over the past week and there are concerns ranging from opportunistic thefts as people become increasingly desperate, to more organised groups cashing in on higher lamb prices.
“We know from previous events such as serious flooding and the last Foot and Mouth outbreak that criminals do target farms at times of crisis,” said rural affairs specialist Rebecca Davidson.
“For this reason, we are urging farmers to take all possible precautions and to check their livestock regularly to deter rustlers taking advantage of higher lamb prices. Following recent reports we are receiving of livestock thefts around the country, we are urging livestock farmers to be on guard and for the public to report any suspicious sightings.”
Figures from NFU Mutual show that the cost of livestock theft has already risen by 19.4 per cent in the past two years, with farm animals worth £3 million stolen from UK farms last year alone.
“Rustling ranges from opportunistic crimes with people stealing one or two lambs for their own consumption, to large-scale organised thefts which have been steadily increasing with 50-100 sheep taken at a time,” she adds.
“The black market in meat is big business for organised gangs who are keen to take advantage of the rise in lamb prices, remote rural locations and stretched police forces who are supporting the emergency response to the Coronavirus outbreak.”
Jonathan Ratcliffe of CCTV.co.uk also warned of reports of livestock and poultry theft, linked to perceived food shortages. One smallholder with a micro-egg sale business in Yorkshire said a van arrived overnight and took her 12 hens.
“We are very worried especially during lambing season as people increasingly behave irrationally regarding food,” Mr Ratcliffe said, adding that the threat to livestock in fields is increasing.
Smaller animals and poultry are an ‘easy target’ for small scale thefts but the consequences for farmers and smallholders of any size is traumatic. Mr Ratcliffe said livestock and poultry should be monitored and counted daily.
NFU Mutual is also warning the public that meat from stolen animals poses a threat to human health as it may have been butchered in unhygienic conditions and from animals that have had medical treatment making them unfit for consumption.
To deter livestock thieves, NFU Mutual advises farmers to:
- Ensure stock is clearly marked and records are up to date
- When possible graze livestock in fields away from roads
- Check stock regularly – and vary times of feeding/check ups
- Consider a high-tech marking system such as TecTracer which puts thousands of coded microdot markers into a sheep’s fleece
- Join a Farm or Rural Watch scheme to share information about rural crime in your area
- Ask neighbours to report any suspicious sightings to the police, or to give information 100 per cent anonymously to the Rural Crime Hotline 0800 783 0137 www.ruralcrimehotline.co.uk
- Call the police immediately if an incident is taking place – do not approach criminals